Changes to your contract of employment can occur due either to a change in the law or by agreement between your employer and yourself. Under contract law, neither you nor your employer can unilaterally decide to change the contract and both must consent to any changes in its terms.
The procedures for how your employer should inform you of any changes to your terms and conditions are set out in the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994-2014. These Acts do not affect the principle that both you and your employer must consent to changes in your contract.
Changes introduced by law
Where the law introduces changes into your contract of employment, (for example, by extending the statutory period of maternity leave), both you and your employer must comply with the law.
Changes introduced by agreement
Major changes to the statement of your terms of employment may be needed if, for example, the nature of your job changes so that you are doing a different job for the same employer. Unless your contract already allows specific changes to be introduced, both you and your employer must agree to these changes. After reaching an agreement, your employer must give you the details of the change(s) in writing within one month of bringing them into operation.
Contractual terms and work practices
Legally there is a distinction between contractual terms (the terms in your contract of employment) and work practices.
Contractual terms include pay, hours of work, sick pay and pension scheme. Not all of your contractual terms may be in the written statement of your terms and conditions of employment. Some may be in your staff handbook, a pension scheme booklet or a collective agreement. You can read more about contractual terms in our document on contract of employment. Changes to these terms must be agreed between you and your employer.
Work practices can include breaks and rostering, for example. Your staff handbook may give you details of such practices. Your employer may change these work practices without your consent. It is considered reasonable for an employer to update work practices or processes to save money or increase efficiency.
Being asked to reduce your pay or hours of work
If your employer has a downturn in business or there is less work for you to do, your employer might ask you to take a pay cut or to work fewer hours. You should consider this request very carefully. A drop in business activity may mean that, if you do not accept a reduction in your working hours or pay, you may lose your job due to redundancy.
The legislation covering notification of changes to your contract is set out in the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994–2014, Section 5. Essentially, whenever a change occurs in any part of your contract of employment, your employer must notify you in writing of the nature and date of the change as soon as possible afterwards, and no later than one month after the change takes effect.
However, if you have to work outside the State for a period of over one month and the change will take place while you are away or on your return, then you must receive written notification before you depart.
The Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994–2014 also set out what terms in your contract must be put in writing (for example, your name, job title, company address, date you commenced employment, etc). The requirement that you receive a written statement of your terms of employment is set down under Section 3.
How to respond
What if my employer changes my terms of employment without notifying me?
- First, raise the issue with your employer or the personnel department of your company.
- If you are a member of a trade union, you can also discuss the matter with your local representative.
- If you still receive no notification of change to your contract, and have tried raising this issue with your employer, you can make a complaint under the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994-2014 – see ‘Complaints’ below.
What can I do about a major change to my contract?
If your employer proposes making a significant change in your contract (for example by reducing your pay), you should ask them for written details of this proposed change, including a review date when the change can be reconsidered. You should respond in writing to the letter about the proposed change.
If you intend to accept the change, you should stress that your acceptance is temporary. At the review date, you could ask to return to the original terms and conditions of your contract.
What if I do not agree to the change?
- If you do not agree and say you wish to continue working as before, your employer may decide to make you redundant. They must prove there is a genuine need for redundancy and that they have followed fair procedures. Otherwise, you may qualify to bring a claim for unfair dismissal.
- If your employer insists on reducing your working hours or pay, you may consider that you have no choice but to leave your job and claim unfair dismissal. This type of dismissal, where the decision to leave is yours but the employer’s actions have forced you to make that decision, is known as constructive dismissal. It can be difficult to prove the case for constructive dismissal, so you should first seek detailed legal advice.
- Alternatively, you could refer the dispute to the Workplace Relations Commission. This may resolve the matter so that you would not have to leave the job. It would also show you tried to resolve the grievance before resigning, which might help your case if you went on to bring an unfair dismissal claim involving constructive dismissal.
If you are making a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission, you should do so within 6 months of the dispute or complaint occurring. You must use the online complaint form available on workplacerelations.ie. The time limit may be extended for up to a further 6 months, but only where there are reasonable circumstances which prevented the complaint being brought within the normal time limit.