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5 Common Employment Contract Breaches & What You Can Do About Them

5 Common Employment Contract Breaches & What You Can Do About Them

If you are working you should have an employment contract. This should include information such as your job title, pay, hours of work, access to benefits such as sick pay and holiday entitlement, and notice periods. However, because there is no legal requirement to provide a written contract of employment it is possible that you don’t have one.

Under S.1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA), your employer does have a duty to provide you with a written statement of the terms of your employment within two months of you starting employment.

If you’ve never been given a written copy of your contract of employment or a written statement of the terms of your employment, don’t worry. You will still have a contract, but its terms will be implied and agreed verbally.

What is an Employment Contract Breach?

A breach of a contract happens when either party breaks one, or more, of the terms of the contract. An employment contract can be breached when an employee or an employer breaks one of the terms of the contract, so it is important to understand when you or your employer could be in breach of your contract.

An employee would, for example, be in breach of their employment contract if they quit without giving the appropriate notice period or were found to have been responsible for gross misconduct (including fraud, violence or gross negligence of their responsibilities at work).

This article will look more closely into 5 common employment contract breaches that are made by employers and will outline what you as an employee can do about them.

5 Common Employment Contract Breaches

  • Unlawful reduction of employees pay
  • Non payment of contractual sick pay, holiday entitlements, or travel expenses
  • Changes to terms of the employment contract without approval
  • Failure to follow appropriate procedures for grievances, disciplinary actions, and dismissals
  • Wrongful dismissal

1. Unlawful reduction of employees pay

Your employer is only allowed to deduct money from your pay if:

  • your contract specifically allows the deduction
  • it was agreed in writing beforehand
  • they overpaid you by mistake
  • it’s required by law (ie. for Income Tax or a court order)
  • you missed work because you were on strike or taking industrial action

If you find that money has been deducted from your pay it is always best to talk to your employer first, as it is possible that there has been a mistake. It may be wise to check any written agreements to be sure that there are no allowable deductions that you are unaware of.

If the matter needs escalating then advice can be found later in this article.

2. Non payment of sick pay, holiday entitlements, or travel expenses

If you think that your pay is incorrect then it is always best to talk to your employer first, as it is possible that there has been a mistake. It is wise to check any written agreements that you have with your employer, and to check your statutory rights, to be sure that you are fully informed.

Contractual sick pay for example should never be less than Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). To be entitled to SSP you must earn on average at least £118 a week before tax, be sick for four full consecutive days or more (including non-working days), and have given prompt notice to your employer that you were going to be unable to attend work. If you are absent from work for more than 7 days you will need to provide a fit note from your doctor. You can find out more here: https://www.gov.uk/employers-sick-pay

By law workers should get 5.6 weeks’ holiday each year pro-rata, with Bank holidays not being extra, as a ‘statutory entitlement’. Your employer may give more and this is called ‘contractual’ holiday.

Employees should never be financially disadvantaged because of genuine business expenses; however, if you have breached your employment contract your employer may be legally allowed to withhold payment.

If you feel that your employer is in breach of your employment contract regarding payment of sick pay, holiday entitlements, or travel expenses, and the matter needs escalating, then advice on how to do this can be found later in this article.

3. Changes to terms of the employment contract without approval

Your employer must have your agreement to change the terms of your employment and you  should be given time to consider whether you wish to accept any proposed changes.

It is important to note that if a change is imposed on you and you continue working for some time after then you may be considered to have agreed to the change. You may have options such as continuing to work as you have been under your original contract.  If the change fundamentally alters the nature of your job, you may have grounds for a claim for constructive dismissal. It would be wise to seek prompt legal advice before taking any action.

If your employer terminates your contract and offers you re-employment on the new terms, you should seek legal advice.

4. Failure to follow appropriate procedures for grievances, disciplinary actions, and dismissals

Your employer should have an easily accessible grievance procedure. If this is not the case then the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures is applicable as a minimum requirement. This can be found here: https://www.acas.org.uk/acas-code-of-practice-on-disciplinary-and-grievance-procedures

By law (Employment Rights Act 1996), you can be dismissed for inappropriate or unacceptable conduct; if you are not able to do the job or don’t have the right qualifications; if the job is no longer needed; a legal reason (ie. a driver being banned from driving; 'some other substantial reason'. If your employer dismisses you they should follow the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures as a minimum requirement.

If in either of the cases above you feel that procedures were not correctly followed you may wish to contact ACAS (https://www.acas.org.uk/contact) and seek legal advice. You may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

5. Wrongful dismissal

You can not be dismissed for any of the following reasons:

  • making a flexible working request
  • being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • wanting to take family leave (eg. parental, paternity or adoption leave)
  • being a member or a representative of a trade union
  • taking part in legal, official industrial action for 12 weeks or less (eg. going on strike)
  • asking for a legal right, such as being paid the National Minimum Wage
  • doing jury service
  • being involved in whistleblowing
  • being forced to retire ('compulsory retirement')
  • taking action, or proposing to take action, over a health and safety issue

If you feel that you have been dismissed for any of these reasons then you may challenge the decision by appealing through your employer's appeal process. You may want to speak to your trade union if you have one, and get legal advice.

What Can I Do About Employment Contract Breaches?

If you believe your employer has breached a term of your contract, the first step should be to try to settle the matter informally. It may be wise to document the steps that you have gone through and note any relevant dates. If you can’t sort out your complaint informally you might want to raise a formal grievance, following your employer’s formal grievance procedure.

NOTE: if you end up complaining to an employment tribunal, the tribunal could reduce any compensation they award you if they think it was unreasonable that you didn't raise a grievance first.

If you believe that a grievance procedure was not followed appropriately or fairly you still have many options.

  • If you are a member of a Trade Union they will be able to offer support and advice
  • ACAS offer free impartial employment advice (https://www.acas.org.uk/)
  • See impartial legal advice regarding making a claim to an employment tribunal.

NOTE: You usually have to make a claim to an employment tribunal within 3 months of your employment ending or the problem happening. You can find out more about employment tribunals here: https://www.gov.uk/employment-tribunals

If you have an issue surrounding anything mentioned above or other issues regarding employment, then call RDC Solicitors on Bingley 01274 723858, Ilkley 01943 601173 or Bradford 01274 735511.

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