Changes to your contract of employment can occur due to a change in the law, but otherwise, changes must be agreed between your employer and yourself. Neither party can unilaterally decide to change the contract. This requirement for both the employer's and the employee's consent to changes in the terms of the contract is part of contract law. This principle is not affected by the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 which sets out the procedures for the employer informing the employee of any changes to the statement of the terms of employment.
Where the law introduces changes into your contract of employment, for example, by extending the statutory period of maternity leave, then both you and your employer must comply with the law.
The nature of your job may change, so that you are doing a different job for the same employer. Such a major change will probably also result in changes to your terms and conditions of employment. Unless your contract already allows certain changes to be introduced, you or your employer cannot introduce change unilaterally. There must be agreement between the parties. Where such an agreement is reached, you must be given the details of change(s) in writing within 1 month of their coming into operation.
Legally there is a distinction between the terms in your contract of employment and work practices.
Contractual terms include pay, hours of work, sick pay and pension scheme. All of your contractual terms may not be in the written statement of your terms and conditions of employment. Some of your contractual terms could be in your staff handbook, a pension scheme booklet or a collective agreement. You can read more about contractual terms in our document on contract of employment. Changes to these terms must be agreed between you and your employer.
Work practices can include breaks and rostering, for example. Details of these may also be in your staff handbook and your employer may change these work practices without your consent. It is considered reasonable for an employer to update work practices or processes to save money or increase efficiency.
When your employer has a downturn in business or there is less work for you to do, your employer may ask you to take a pay cut or to work fewer hours. You should consider this request very carefully. If your employer's business activity is reduced, this may mean that if you don’t accept a reduction in your working hours or pay you may lose your job due to redundancy.
The legislation covering notification of changes to your contract is set out in Section 5 of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 to 2001. Essentially, whenever a change is made or occurs in any part of the contract furnished by an employer, the employer shall notify the employee in writing of the nature and date of the change as soon as may be afterwards. They must notify the employee however not later than:
This Act also sets out what terms in your contract must be put in writing. (For example, your name, job title, company address, date you commenced employment, etc.). The requirement that you receive a written statement of your terms of employment is set down under Section 3 of the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994.
If you do not receive the required notification of a change to your statement of terms of employment, you should first raise this issue with your employer or the personnel department of your company. If you are a member of a trade union, you may also raise this with your local representative. If you still fail to receive a notification of change to your contract, and have tried raising this issue with your employer, you may make a complaint under the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 - see 'Complaints' below.
If your employer makes a significant change in your contract for example by reducing your pay, you should ask your employer to give you written details of this proposed change to your contract of employment including a review date. You should respond to this in writing and if you are proposing to accept the change, you should stress that your acceptance is temporary. At the review date the change to your contract can be reconsidered and you could ask to return to the original terms and conditions of your contract.
If you do not agree and say you wish to continue working as before your employer may decide to make you redundant. If you are dismissed in this way, you may qualify to bring a claim for unfair dismissal. Unless your employer can prove there was a genuine redundancy situation and that fair procedures were followed, this dismissal may be found to be unfair.
If your employer insists on reducing your working hours or pay you may also consider that you have no choice but to leave your job and claim unfair dismissal. This type of dismissal is known as constructive dismissal, because although you left the job, the employer forced you to leave by his/her actions. Before exercising this option, however, you should always seek detailed legal advice as proving constructive dismissal can often be difficult. Alternatively, you could refer the dispute to a Rights Commissioner in the hope of resolving the matter, and thus avoid the necessity for you to leave the job. As the attempts made by the employee to resolve a grievance before resigning are always relevant in an unfair dismissal claim involving constructive dismissal, this may be the wisest course of action.
If you are making a complaint to the Rights Commissioner Service or the Employment Appeals Tribunal you should do so within 6 months of the dispute or complaint occurring. You must use the new online complaint form (available by selecting ‘Make a complaint in relation to employment rights’ on workplacerelations.ie). The time limit may be extended for up to a further 6 months, but only where there are exceptional circumstances which prevented the complaint being brought within the normal time limit.
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If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.