Objecting to Changes in your Employment Contract

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has recently considered the effect of an employee failing to object to a variation of their contract, and continuing to work.

In the case of Wess v Science Museum Group, the Claimant, Ms Wess, was employed as a Curator in various roles since 1979. At the time of her dismissal, she was a Senior Curator. When Ms Wess’s employment began, she received a contract of employment, which confirmed that she would be entitled to receive six months notice of the termination of her employment.

In 2003, she was sent a new contract. Along with some other changes, this new contract attempted to vary her notice period by reducing it from six months to twelve weeks. Ms Wess did not sign the contract, as requested, but neither did she inform her employer that she objected to the new terms. She continued to work until she was dismissed due to redundancy in November 2012.

The Employment Tribunal found that, by failing to inform her employer that she objected to the variations of her contract, and continuing to work, Ms Wess had impliedly accepted the variations.

The EAT agreed that this was a fair conclusion for the Tribunal to have come to in the circumstances. This is not to say that this will always be the case, and Tribunal will need to be careful when implying acceptance of a unilateral change of terms, whose effects are not immediate. However, in this case, the employer had made it clear that any future employment would only be offered on the basis of a completely new contract.

This appears to have been the correct decision on the facts of this case, and employees should be careful if their employer attempts to vary the terms of their employment contract.

What if my employer tries to change my contract?

If your employer attempts to change the terms of your employment contract, and you are not happy to accept the change, then you should inform your employer of your objection as soon as possible, and not simply ignore it. If you continue to work without objecting to the contract variations, it is likely that you would be seen to have accepted the proposed changes.

If you claim that your employer has breached your contract by imposing terms that you did not agree to, then, by continuing to work without objecting, you are highly likely to be seen to have affirmed the breach, and you would have no claim against your employer.

If your employer is attempting to change your contract of employment, or you believe that your employer has breached your contract for any other reason, please contact the dedicated employment team at Michael Lewin Solicitors, and we will be happy to discuss this with you.

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