Law firm warns employers of legal risks

Published:  17 September, 2009


A leading North West law firm says the summer is likely to see more high profile cases of recession battered employers cutting costs by trying to change their workers pay and conditions.

But Mace & Jones head of employment law Martin Edwards, one of the UK's leading employment specialists, warned bosses that changing terms and conditions is legally risky and requires expert legal advice. Nationally unemployment has risen to 2.26m but there has been a small rise in the number of part-time workers as more employees take up their company"s offer to cut hours and pay.

 "The process of changing terms and conditions must be handled with the utmost care and attention”, said Edwards. He added: "Changing terms and conditions is legally complex and requires in-depth preparation to ensure the right measures are selected. First, check to see whether existing contract terms allow some or all of the necessary flexibility to make the changes.  If not, it's much better to reach agreement with staff through negotiation and discussion rather than imposing change. It is vital that the process is managed diplomatically from the very beginning. Getting off on the wrong foot risks antagonising staff and damaging morale. It is vital employers communicate the reasons behind the changes. That way staff fully understand that the firm is doing its best to protect them and the ultimately ensure the business adapts and survives.”

Edwards said if agreement on changing terms is reached, the terms agreed need to be clearly documented. And it needs to be clear whether the changes are time-limited or permanent.

“If agreement cannot be reached, steps may be taken to impose change by terminating existing contracts and issuing new ones, but again this carries legal risk and expert advice is essential”, he warned. Edwards made his comments soon after 2000 British Airways cabin crew voted almost unanimously to reject the airline's cost cutting proposals. British Airways, which posted a record loss of £401m in the 12 months to the end of March 2009, is proposing a pay freeze and 800 of its staff have taken up a request to work without pay in July.

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