Off sick and back on reduced hours temporarily. Should I sign a new contract?

I’m contracted to 40 hours a week, but have recently been off work due to surgery. I’m now back to work on reduced hours [24 a week],  but this will increase as I feel up to it over the next few weeks. I am concerned as my employer is now saying I have to sign a contract for the reduced hours even though my hours are temporary. They seem to have employed more staff since I have been off and now say they haven’t got the hours. Yet they knew I was due back. Is this new contract legal? And should I sign it?

Employee Rights


There are quite a few things that might impact upon your options here and it would probably be worth taking some individual advice to be certain of your position.  One of the things that might make a difference is whether you have been working for your employer for at least two years continuously.

If you have got over two years’ service, and you are certain that you are contracted to do 40 hours per week, you are far better placed to refuse to sign the new contract and challenge any attempts to reduce your hours and, consequently, pay.  In those circumstances, the next step might be to raise a grievance about their attempts to move you to a part-time position in breach of your contract.  Check the staff handbook (if there is one) to see if there is a grievance policy, and then follow the procedure set out in that policy to raise your concerns internally in the first instance.  If this doesn’t resolve the situation, you should certainly seek advice at that point, and very promptly.

If you don’t have two years’ service, your options are more limited as you don’t qualify for many of the standard employment law rights.  For instance, if your employer unilaterally decides to reduce your hours from 40 to 24 without your agreement, that is almost certainly a fundamental breach of your contract in response to which an employee with over two years’ service might ultimately resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal if the situation cannot be resolved.

However, without two years’ service, there is no right to bring a claim for unfair dismissal in standard circumstances.  There are exceptions to that rule, and those exceptions will usually be related to the underlying reason why your employer has decided to reduce your hours and whether that reason gives rise to, for instance, an automatically unfair dismissal claim, or a discrimination claim.  These types of claim don’t require two years’ service to pursue them, but they do require specific facts to be present.  It is possible, although without more information I couldn’t say with any certainty, that the decision to replace you and reduce your hours was related to you being incapacitated for a period and your employer choosing to employ somebody else rather than waiting for you to recover fully.  It will depend upon what your condition is, how serious it is and how long term it might be, but it may give rise to a claim for disability discrimination if that is the case.

Whatever the position is, given the change in hours appears to be a result of you having been off for medical reasons, I would advise you to get some tailored advice where you can confirm some of the things mentioned above to enable your adviser to properly identify your possible options.  You should also seek that advice quickly, as claims in the employment tribunal have very short limitation dates – if you don’t submit claims within three months of certain trigger events, you are often prevented from pursuing the claim at all.

I hope that assists and good luck with resolving the situation and getting back to work full time.

*Marie Horner is an experienced senior employment law specialist at ALT Legal in Wetherby. She is also CIPD qualified in HR management.

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