Hello, my name is***** am a qualified lawyer and it is my pleasure to assist you with your question today.
Do you have a copy of your contract for me to look at please? Also, how long have you been working there for?
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Many thanks for your patience. Looking at the handbook, it specifically states that you have agreed to work additional hours as required by the company. However, it is important to note that they have provided specific examples as to when you may be asked to work such additional hours. They have mentioned things such as covering for short notice absences of colleagues. What they appear to have done here instead is to have asked you to increase your hours for an indefinite period of time – this is not down to absences by colleagues it seems to be driven by the needs of the business, for example because they have an increased workload at present.
Whilst you are able to challenge them over this and point them to the clause which says when you may be asked to work overtime and that they are basically trying to change your hours on a more permanent basis, your rights will be somewhat limited. This is due to the length of time you have been working there for.
If you have been continuously employed at your place of work for less than 2 years then your employment rights will unfortunately be somewhat limited. Most importantly, you will not be protected against unfair dismissal or constructive dismissal. This means that your employer can dismiss you or force you to leave for more or less any reason, and without following a fair procedure, as long as their decision is not based on discriminatory grounds (i.e. because of gender, race, religion, age, a disability, sexual orientation, etc.) or because you were trying to assert any of your statutory rights (e.g. requesting maternity/paternity leave, etc.).
So what could easily happen is that you refuse to do the additional hours and in response they just sack you. As you do not have protection against this you cannot challenge any potential dismissal. So bear this in mind when you decide on how to proceed.
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Notice in such situations is not covered in law and will, if required, be covered under contract.
In terms of the law on changing terms, there are a few ways in which an employer may try and make changes to an employee’s contract of employment. These are by:
· Receiving the employee’s express consent to the changes.
· Forcefully introducing the changes (called 'unilateral change of contract').
· Giving the employee notice to terminate their current contract and then offer them immediate re-engagement under a new contract that contains the new terms.
If the changes are introduced without the employee's consent, then the following options are available:
1. Start working on the new terms but making it clear in writing that you are working ‘under protest’. This means that you do not agree with the changes but feel forced to do so. In the meantime you should try and resolve the issue either by informal discussions or by raising a formal grievance.
2. If the changes fundamentally impact the contract, for example changes to pay, duties, place of work, etc., you may wish to consider resigning and claiming constructive dismissal. The resignation must be done without unreasonable delay so as not to give the impression that the changes had been accepted. The claim must be submitted in an employment tribunal within 3 months of resigning and is subject to you having at least 2 years' continuous service. You would then seek compensation for loss of earnings resulting from the employer's actions.
3. If the employment is terminated and the employer offers re-engagement on the new terms that could potentially amount to unfair dismissal. However, the employer can try and justify the dismissal and the changes if they had a sound business reason for doing so. This could be pressing business needs requiring drastic changes for the company to survive. If no such reason exists, you can make a claim for unfair dismissal in an employment tribunal. The same time limit of 3 months to claim and the requirement to have 2 years' continuous would apply.
Finally, it is also worth mentioning that sometimes employment contracts may try to give the employer a general right to make changes to an employee’s contract. As such clauses give the employer the unreserved to change any term, so as to evade the general rule that changes must be mutually agreed, courts will rarely enforce such clauses. Nothing but the clearest language will be sufficient to create such a right and the situation must warrant it. Any attempt to rely on such clauses will still be subject to the requirement of the employer to act reasonably and can be challenged as above.