My employment started in 1998 on a zero hours contract. In 2002 I was offered a part-time salaried position in the same company. In late 2010 I was offered a secondment to a temporary role and have a letter confirming that that secondment would end in December 2012 or earlier if needed to return to my former role. In summer 2012 my reporting manager changed her job role and I was told that I would now work for a different reporting manager with a completely different permanent job role. There was never any paperwork issued for this new role. In the last month I have found out that my superiors have decided to return me to the role I had back in 2010. I have asked why and have been told that I am too expensive for this current role, that it is not a salaried position and that they are short of people of my former rank. I have asked for clarification from my own HR team but as yet they have not given me any information. Can they just do this after so long? The job will still be there – just being done by someone cheaper (who I have been training, thinking she might be able to cover my upcoming sabbatical).
Generally speaking, any existing contract of employment can be varied only with the agreement of both you and your employer. Even though you did not sign a new contract in the summer of 2012, you are likely to have been perceived as accepting the new job role (and contractual variation) by your subsequent conduct. Now that your employer is once again seeking to vary your job role they will again need to seek your agreement. This can either be by your express written/oral consent or by your implied conduct.
From what you say in your question, if you do change roles your current job will continue to exist. Your employer will therefore not be able to argue that this is a redundancy situation. If your role was to be made redundant then your employer would be under a duty to consider any suitable alternative employment available for you and due to your previous experience doing your old role they may have been able to justify offering you that position.
You will therefore need your own HR team to clarify the position ASAP. If you do start to work under the new terms and are unhappy about doing so then you need to make abundantly clear to your employer that you do not agree to the change and are working under protest.
If you are not satisfied with the response you receive from HR I would suggest you hold an informal meeting with them to discuss your situation in more detail. If this does not resolve the issue then you may wish to raise a formal grievance. If the grievance procedure fails to solve the problem then I would recommend that you immediately seek further legal advice regarding your specific situation and any potential grounds you may have for claiming breach of contract.
Should you require any clarification on the above points then please contact Tracey Guest of Slater Heelis LLP on 0161 672 1425.
*Helen Frankland assisted in answering this question.