I am a single parent and a ‘field based’ employee. I have been with my current employer for over two years. I was initially employed to cover customers in a region which is relatively close to home. A colleague has recently left and they are using this an opportunity to reorganise the territories rather than replace her. The area I covered has now been divided between two of my colleagues and I have been given another region. With journey times of between four to six/seven hours this will require me to stay away from home more than likely on a weekly basis which I am unable to do as I do not have overnight childcare in place. My contract does not include a defined geographical area – it mentions working where needed and overnight stays / worldwide travel as required by the business. Am I right in thinking that this is still regarded as change to my terms and conditions even though the area I covered was not specifically detailed in my contract? My manager has acknowledged that I am the only person in the team that has been adversely affected by this change. My colleagues will not need to stay away from home to cover the newly defined regions.
I am meeting with HR soon to discuss redundancy. I am concerned they will say this is voluntary redundancy as there is a role vacant. I have income protection and it needs to be compulsory redundancy for it to qualify. Surely if this alternative territory is not manageable and so different from my original area I can argue it is compulsory?
I understand that you are a field-based employee and have been employed for just over two years covering a particular region. Although your contract of employment states that you are employed to work where needed which may include overnight stays and/or worldwide travel as required by the business I understand that you have only ever been based in one region. You confirm that a colleague has recently left and the Company is using this an opportunity to reorganise the territories rather than replace her. You confirm that the geographical area that you covered has now been divided between two of your colleagues and it has been confirmed that you will now be expected to cover a new region which will entail journey times of between 4 to 6/7 hours this will require you to stay away from home more than likely on a weekly basis. You are unable to do this as you are a single parent and do not have overnight childcare in place.
You ask whether this would be regarded as a change to your terms and conditions even though the area you covered previously was not specifically detailed in your employment contract. You also ask whether this would be a redundancy situation as you have been asked to meet to discuss redundancy and are concerned that it may be seen by your insurance company as a voluntary redundancy, leaving you unable to claim that you qualify for income protection.
Generally speaking, terms and conditions of employment can be agreed orally or in writing or a mixture of the two. They can also evolve over time and they can become your fixed, agreed terms and conditions by virtue of the fact that this is the way the contract has been performed (without objection) over a period of time, in your case for the last two years and indeed the whole duration of your employment. It does appear that you would have an argument that, by custom and practice, you working only in one region is the contractual arrangement that has been agreed.
If there is a reduced requirement for employees to perform a certain type of work (i.e. the work you currently perform in this region) then it may be that you can argue that your position is, in fact, at risk of redundancy and the alternative available is not suitable – i.e. that you were taken on to work in one region, have never worked elsewhere and are unable to work elsewhere. Your employer should consult with you about redundancy and I assume that this is the purpose of the meeting with HR. At this meeting you should explain that you feel this is a redundancy situation and that the alternative on offer is not suitable.
Furthermore, and a final point that you may wish to raise is that if you are the only employee being subjected to this treatment, and this treatment is due to the circumstances of being unable to work in the new geographical area required solely due to your childcare commitments, you could potentially argue that your employer’s treatment of you constitutes unlawful sex discrimination. You may also have a claim for bullying, harassment and/or victimisation if you are being singled out in this regard.
In the first instance, I would advise you to attend the meeting with HR and, if the outcome is unsatisfactory, raise a grievance in relation to the change to your terms and conditions and/or treatment of you and./or lack of redundancy consultation. If this does not resolve matters, I would advise you to take further specific legal advice in relation to your situation, namely the alteration of your terms and conditions of employment without your consent, the potential unlawful discrimination issue and the possible next steps.
You must submit any claim to an employment tribunal within three months of the unlawful act and you must go through the ACAS pre-conciliation process before your claim would be accepted by a tribunal.
Should you require any further assistance, please contact Tracey Guest on 0161 672 1425.
*Lucy Flynn assisted in answering this question.