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Change of benefits in employee handbook

(15 Posts)
WillYouDoTheFandango Wed 25-Sep-13 22:41:42

A couple of months ago I was sent a letter through the post enclosing an updated version of my employee handbook (I'm on maternity leave).

The changes were extensive, the 2 that affect me were:

1. A reduction in the length of sick pay I am eligible for (formerly 6 months full, 6 half; now this would only kick in after 4 years service. I have since passed 4 years so am back to the same amount of sick pay).

2. Mat pay decreased from 18 weeks half pay to 4 weeks. Period required to return to work without repaying AML increased from 3 months to 9 months. (Does not apply to current period of ML but to any subsequent periods).

At the time I didn't really question any of this as I presumed that they could just do this as my contract just says refer to employee handbook and doesn't specify my entitlement and also I was a sleep deprived mess. I was notified that the changes would be effective immediately and that I could contact them for the next month (since passed) to discuss.

Can they just make these changes? Are they relying on me being a bit clueless or is this okay as these are additional benefits rather than a requirement?


prh47bridge Wed 25-Sep-13 23:41:54

Any change to your contract requires your agreement. The handbook forms part of your contract. However, they may argue that you have now accepted the change because you didn't object within a month of being notified. Even if you were able to reject the changes there is a risk that they may make you redundant on the basis that they cannot afford to provide benefits at the old level.

WillYouDoTheFandango Wed 25-Sep-13 23:58:56

Thanks prh, oh well maybe time to look around then. I think they're actually trying to push me to quit rather than have to pay redundancy but obviously that's just a hunch.

fridayfreedom Thu 26-Sep-13 00:09:21

If you work for a large organisation such as the nhs or local govt then the changes should have been discussed with the staff side ie union reps at joint meetings with the management.
Unfortunately we don't always have an option other than accepting the changes although hopefully the unions can reduce some of the harsher changes .

WillYouDoTheFandango Thu 26-Sep-13 01:01:29

It's a tiny business Friday and we employees seem to have been sucking up an awful lot of changes recently. I know everyone is struggling in the recession but it's hard to accept when you can see money being splashed around in other areas of the business. Such is life I suppose.

Lonecatwithkitten Thu 26-Sep-13 07:36:33

I would look very carefully as even at these reduced levels these sick pay and mat pay offerings are considerably better than most small business can offer. Vast majority only offer SSP and SMP.

17leftfeet Thu 26-Sep-13 07:44:01

I've worked for my very large company for 9 years and I get 18 weeks full sick

Your company sounds very generous

stowsettler Thu 26-Sep-13 10:13:28

prh that isn't correct I'm afraid. If a contract needs to be changed for business reasons (which can be myriad) then an employee only needs to be given sufficient notice of that change. I usually give three months' notice. If they do not agree to the change they can actually have their contract of employment terminated for 'some other substantial reason'.

That is quite a garbled explanation but, in summary, there's nothing illegal in what they've done here. And as has already been said - the terms sound pretty good to me. I would think they had to change the previous terms because it was costing them too much money.

flowery Thu 26-Sep-13 13:07:37

"If a contract needs to be changed for business reasons (which can be myriad) then an employee only needs to be given sufficient notice of that change."

Goodness, where did you get that from?! Not the case at all. Regardless of business reason, it really isn't a simple as that. If that were the case then an employer who was struggling financially could just write to all its employees saying we are cutting all your pay by 50% like it or lump it. When in fact if an employer did exactly that, they'd be in a tribunal faster than you could say breach of contract, non payment of wages and constructive dismissal.

What's in a handbook isn't automatically contractual, so in this case it might be fine, and I would agree those are exceptionally generous terms for a small business.

In a general sense, if an employer wants to change terms and conditions, it needs to propose the change, consult with employees, listen to alternative suggestions, negotiate and ultimately if the change is essential and they can demonstrate that, and employees refuse to agree after consultation/negotiation, an employer could dismiss and then reengage on the new terms. But it can't just give notice, and to avoid unfair dismissal claims it needs to be able to demonstrate that it made every effort to seek consent to the change before imposing it.

stowsettler Thu 26-Sep-13 16:12:36

Sorry, I phrased it badly and of course was being very generalist. My own experience with changing handbooks has involved all the stages you outlined and the changes have always been essential. I wasn't thinking about something as radical as cutting pay or other benefits.

Although of course in your example, any employer who was struggling financially that much would either consult on a pay cut / change in T&Cs or, worst case scenario, go bust and everyone loses their jobs anyway.

flowery Thu 26-Sep-13 16:49:07

Trouble is if you post in the way you did, and state as fact that employees only need to be given notice people may take you at your word and assume that to be correct.

stowsettler Thu 26-Sep-13 19:24:43

Well, that's true but coming at it from the angle I am, and which the majority of employers come from (by that I mean ones which do things legally and fairly), in essence what I say is what happens in practice. Consultation etc - yes of course but in reality I've found that consultation doesn't change the basic fact that, provided the reason is legitimate and the due process has been followed, an employer can change T&Cs, including the handbook, and there's not much an employee can do about it.

I sincerely hope that people don't take the advice of an anonymous online chat forum as gospel. But of course you're probably right.

baffledmum Thu 26-Sep-13 20:58:12

Your employer sounds very generous. I have worked for 15+ years for a large successful business. Our full sick pay is discretionary until you have completed a 3 month probation period and even then it is 8 weeks max on full pay, then 4 on half, then a quarter until you reach 26 weeks as which point it is SSP from there.

WillYouDoTheFandango Thu 26-Sep-13 22:28:02

It may be generous but it is fairly standard in my industry as it is dominated by young female workers, very few of whom return to work following maternity as freelance work is very readily available and really well paid.

I understand why they have cut it, just wanted to know if the way they went about it was acceptable. Thanks for all the advice, obviously it seems it was, but could probably have been done in a better way that didn't get quite so many backs up grin

flowery Thu 26-Sep-13 22:41:23

"Consultation etc - yes of course but in reality I've found that consultation doesn't change the basic fact that, provided the reason is legitimate and the due process has been followed, an employer can change T&Cs, including the handbook, and there's not much an employee can do about it."

You are not wrong, but that's surely not a reason to advise someone that no process is required? It sounds like in the OPs case due process hasn't been followed, so telling the OP her employer was only required to give sufficient notice of the change could (had she chosen to believe your advice to be accurate) have led her not to challenge her employer's actions, believing them to be entirely legitimate.

Many employers who try to get away with changing something without due process and consultation will back down if challenged, not wanting to go through a difficult consultation process or terminate people's employment.

There's a difference between wanting to do something because it would be better for the business and absolutely having to in order for the business to survive. If the business reason for this change is nearer the "it would be better for the business" end and not actually completely critical, it's perfectly possible they may back down rather than terminate the employment of someone on maternity leave, which any sensible employer would only do if unavoidable.

Sorry, it's just a bugbear of mine. It irritates me when people state authoritatively that x is definitely the case, thus giving the impression that they have expert knowledge, when they are wrong. I think I'm just very conscious that I know for a fact that lots of people have acted on the basis of what I've said on these threads. I'm fine with that but it does prove that although there is a disclaimer at the top, and people should take it into consideration, in reality if people think someone knows what they are talking about, there is every chance they will act on that advice.

I'm going to drop it now because I am on a bit of a hobby horse!

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