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My employer has recently undergone a number of changes internally, involving the move to different premises (with the argument about the new building being larger, however will accommodate roughly the same number of staff as the current building will occupy). As part of this, they have sent around an update to the employment contract which basically nullifies the flexible working hours which previously has been in effect. Many people I work with vary their working hours to fit in with their lives, and has been accepted - up to this point.

The business operated a core working hours of 10am to 4pm, but are changing this to 9am - 5pm, with a 30 minute "flexible start/end" that employees can start and end their working day (e.g; 8.30am to 5pm, or 9am to 5.30pm) - effectively removing the concept of flexible working hours completely. This affects many people's lives, and some of my colleagues are petitioning to retain their flexible working hours, of which are being met with strict rules surrounding a mandatory lunch hour/half hour, no option to work less than this to make up the time (despite being willing to), and one has been forced to drop their hours to 36/week.

They also put in a clause to the portion that they're wanting everyone to sign which says that everyone must specify when, between the hours to 12pm to 2pm, they will take their lunch, and must be rigid over this (unless a meeting is occurring, in which case that overrides your lunch hour and you must take it later). This was also met with protest, and they eventually caved and relaxed this rigidity slightly, then sent across some minutes from that meeting ratifying this. They will not, however, update the contract to reflect this as they've said that the meeting minutes ratifies it. However, we don't believe this would ever stand up in court if a dispute ever arose. Is this true?

The final part of this demands flexibility from the employee for the business's requirements (e.g; if a meeting runs late/starts early, the employee is expected to be there), but will not offer the same level of flexibilities to staff who currently have lives (unless they offer a rigid, business-valid justification for doing so). It's almost as if they're "offering" this 30 minutes of flexibility to save face because on paper the revision is a load of rubbish.

Many people do not want to sign this, as it significantly affects their lives (I myself work earlier in the morning to finish at 4pm to miss rush hour traffic in both directions, and so I have a little bit of daylight left at the end of the day - however I've been told that I would not be able to petition for flexible working hours with these reasons as they are not valid and would be rejected..and have also been told that I would be one of the worst affected by the change in rules). The move to the new building also offers no car parking space, so those that currently park on the company's property are effectively having to take a pay cut in order to pay for parking, or obtain an alternative means of getting to the office - usually at the additional expensive of significantly increased commute times.

My question is basically this - Can they legally do this? What are the options for employees if they disagree to the new rigid rules and will (or have) get a formal request for flexible working hours rejected because their reasons are not "valid" in the eyes of the business? If the company lets staff go as a result of not agreeing to these rigid terms, are there grounds for constructive/unfair dismissal?

Sorry I've rambled on a bit, but it's quite difficult to get a lot of this across. Hope someone can help.

Edit: sorry, jurisdiction is England & Wales. Company is based in England.

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    Jurisdiction? Country, at least, please. – mkennedy Oct 4 '17 at 12:26
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    At least in some jurisdictions, employers basically have to lock employees out at lunch, or risk lawsuits for retroactive pay, even if the employees requested it - e.g. overlawyered.com/2012/01/… – dsolimano Oct 4 '17 at 12:58
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    No answer is possible without a jurisdiction. In England and Wales, you can refuse to sign the new contract, and they are stuck with the old contract. A) They don't have to give you any pay rises (which are unilateral changes to the contract on their behalf); B) They can make you redundant. I would look for a new job. – Martin Bonner Oct 4 '17 at 13:59
  • Now specifically in England and Wales, they can only make you redundant if your job isn't required anymore. Refusal to accept a new contract is no acceptable reason to fire you. – gnasher729 Oct 4 '17 at 20:42
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    @gnasher729 : Sadly that's not true. If the job you are doing (with flexi-time) isn't required, but there is a new job (without) that is, they can make you redundant (obviously, they have to offer you the new job - but that was their starting position).. I have been through this, and although our HR was pretty hard-nosed, I am also confident she wouldn't have lied to us. – Martin Bonner Oct 5 '17 at 16:27
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Forcing (as opposed to offering) anybody to sign a contract/agreement (or an update to existing one) is never legal in the context of Common Law and any legislation derived from it (which is certainly the one in England).

However, the question is: how are they forcing? Holding a gun to your head?

That said, you are free to not sign anything and just keep obeying the existing contract. The employer is equally free to do the same: if they are no longer happy with the old contract and you do not want to sign the new one, they have two options:

  • try to negotiate a new contact that you are happy with; or
  • look at the "Termination" section of the old one and see how they can legally stop employing you.

If "many people do not want to sign this" it might be sensible to organise them to not sign the new contract and start negotiations instead. The more employees do this the more flexible the employer will be.

  • A few days after I posted this, they issued formal letters to all those that hadn't signed it, inviting them to a meeting to discuss their reasons why they weren't signing it, and if no agreement could be reached, the date on the letter served as notice for employment termination. Those that went to these meetings attempted to negotiate terms but were outright rejected from the other side. The way I see this amounts to unfair/constructive dismissal. – dannosaur Oct 23 '17 at 18:18
  • @dannosaur It depends on the existing contract's fine print, in particular under what circumstances they can terminate it. I'd imagine it would allow both parties to give notice if they are no longer happy no matter what the reasons for unhappiness are. In your case, by altering working hours they apparently want to raise productivity and discipline. They might be indeed prepared that some employees will not accept it and resign, or they may be just taking chances expecting you to give in, and if you do not they might pull back. – Greendrake Oct 23 '17 at 22:56
  • "Freedom of Contract is there, and no employment (or other) law can override it": that can't be true. If it were, how could there be a minimum wage? – phoog Nov 22 '17 at 3:26
  • @phoog Certainly we can't pay less than minimum wage in case of employment, but we are free to buy services (i.e. business-to-business relationship) under any conditions. In this answer the reference to Freedom of Contract is unnecessary though, I'm removing it. – Greendrake Nov 22 '17 at 3:38
  • "free to buy services under any conditions": under some conditions, though, the relationship would fall under employment law even if the parties purport that it is a business-to-business relationship. In this case, however, it seems that the question concerns an employee. – phoog Nov 22 '17 at 17:31
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In England and Wales, there are specific provisions to protect employees when a business changes hands, called, logically enough, Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment). On what you have said, this falls squarely within the regulations, and the company cannot in any way worsen your terms of employment without your consent. However case law has weakened the impact in many ways, and it would be worth either asking HR about the Tupe regulations or consulting a lawyer, depending on your finances and trust in the HR department.

  • This doesn't sound like a TUPE transfer though: it's the same employer who is reorganising. There is no transfer. – Andrew Leach Nov 22 '17 at 21:45

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