As a general rule, a job contract binds employee and employer in terms of expectations. However, there are times when an employer may decide to change the job description of their employee unilaterally. This might be a minor alteration agreed upon by both parties or a significant change to the job description that the employee feels pressured to accept.
Whatever the situation, employees have certain rights when it comes to unexpected job changes. This post will cover legitimate reasons an employer may have to enact changes to a job description in the UK, how you are protected from job changes, and what you can do if you feel aggrieved.
What causes a change in an employment contract?
Occasionally, employers can make changes to a job contract, even changing the job description if necessary. There are also situations where an employee may decide to switch jobs but remain within the company. If you are wondering whether they can change it unilaterally without your input, they can’t. However, there are some caveats to this answer, which are determined by the type of job you are doing and the contract’s provisions.
If you are working for a startup, budgets may be limited, and as a result, employers may intentionally word contracts vaguely to allow flexibility. If this is the case, you could find yourself switching around job positions regularly. Nevertheless, what are some genuine reasons an employer or employee might want to enact changes to their job description?
Reasons your employer may want you to change jobs
Sometimes employers must make significant changes to job descriptions due to economic conditions. New laws or regulations may require modifications, such as reorganizing the business, moving it to a new location, or making other necessary changes. Your employer may need to make changes to the contract to fix an error made in drafting it. Your best interest might be served by allowing the error to be corrected, depending on the circumstances.
Some disciplinary measures, such as a reduction in pay or a demotion, might be appropriate if the situation warrants it and is covered in your original contract. If you feel you are not being treated fairly, you need to review the disciplinary procedure, get support from your Trade Union or ACAS, and take appropriate measures if necessary.
Do you have recourse if your employer arbitrarily changes your contract?
In most cases, the UK has laws that protect employees from unfair contract changes, including unreasonable and unilateral job description changes. However, and this is a big one, if your original contract included what is known as variation (or flexibility) clauses, you might have a more challenging time fighting your cases. Nevertheless, your employer may or may not use this clause to make the changes they want, depending on how the clause is written and what changes they desire.
Can my employer change my job description if I don’t agree?
If you don’t want to accept the significant changes to your job description and are unhappy about them, there are several steps you should take. Put everything in writing so that you can keep a copy of your communication with your employer. This also ensures that you keep proceedings professional and civil.
Don’t accept the change from your employer if you don’t agree to it. If your employer hasn’t consulted with you in any way or has not given you any notice about the changes, you should also bring this up.
Whenever possible (not counting direct or indirect discrimination where you must take immediate legal action), you should make an effort to settle your dispute civilly. Despite that, you should move quickly, as even if you continue to work under protest, your continued operation may be construed as your agreement to the changes.
Significant changes to job description that might violate a contract
A breach of contract occurs when an employer fails to comply with the terms and conditions or makes significant changes that significantly alter it. Changes that can constitute a breach of the contract include:
- Forcing a change without having obtained the employee’s permission or a flexible clause in the contract.
- The act of dismissing an employee and rehiring them in a new position without notice.
These points can constitute a breach of contract and leave you with the only option to claim against your employer in an employment tribunal.
You may be able to make an employment tribunal claim in the UK if they feel you have been wrongly dismissed and then rehired under different auspices. To legally file a claim, you would typically have to have worked for two years at the same place. In some cases, including those involving discrimination, you can make claims when you have worked for a shorter period. It’s a complex area so make sure you get advice.
You have many rights as an employee and can take action if you feel aggrieved. In any case, you should assess the situation as it arises since it’s always better to work things out civilly before going to court. Even so, if you feel that negotiations are stagnating, you may have the option of taking your employer to an employment tribunal to resolve the issue.
Getting employment support in the UK
If you are a member of a Trade Union then talk to them as soon as the issue arises. Or if you think a restructuring is on the cards in your workplace then it might be time to join a Trade Union if you are not already a member. Job change disputes are the bread and butter of Trades Unions and one of the key member benefits.
ACAS is an independent public body funded by the government to give impartial advice on workplace rights. They can also help to resolve disputes around contractual adjustments and significant changes to your job description or working conditions.