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Can you force staff to change their terms and conditions?

You need to delegate some duties from senior staff to junior employees but have come up against some resistance. To what degree can you legally change their job descriptions to force them to take on extra responsibilities?

By Alison Graham

You need to delegate some duties from senior staff to junior employees but have come up against some resistance. To what degree can you legally change their job descriptions to force them to take on extra responsibilities?

Changing an employee's terms and conditions to their detriment can be risky.

The simplest way to make the changes is to get the employee to consent. If you're facing resistance, consider what incentives could be offered – the employee may willingly take on the extra responsibilities in return for an extra day's holiday or higher pay. Or it may be that you need to think about some innovative non-financial incentives if these help you to gain consent.

In the absence of agreement, avoid simply imposing the new duties on the staff as, depending on the scale of the change, this could amount to a breach of contract and give rise to various claims by the employee that could be difficult to defend.

Instead, the better route is to terminate the existing contract and then offer continued employment under the new terms. Your employee will still be entitled to their notice under their old terms and, as there is a termination, there is still scope for a claim against you for unfair dismissal – even if they accept the new terms.

Having a sound and well thought-out business reason for making the changes and ensuring you follow a fair dismissal procedure before termination will be crucial to justifying this course of action in the event of challenge.

Alison Graham is a senior staff solicitor at Veale Wasbrough Lawyers, Bristol

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