Friday, 11 June 2021 13:52

Futureproofing Employment Contracts

Although some may say that a global pandemic was due, nobody really saw it coming. If they had, we may have been better prepared with stocks of personal protective equipment and the like. From an economic point of view, it was a fortunate that the Government was relatively creative and decisive in coming up with and furlough scheme so that lockdown could be effectively implemented to save lives.

For most people, being placed onto the furlough scheme actually amounted to a variation of contract. Something that, strictly speaking, should have been preceded by a period of consultation as it was a significant change of terms. Considering the circumstances however, only the pedantic few are likely to create a fuss over consultation not taking place. Furthermore, we can’t really see a Tribunal would upholding a grievance based on these claims should anyone insist on taking matters to the extreme.

We have also seen variations to contracts for the many who began working from home during the pandemic. One of the statutory clauses within a contract of employment is the employee’s place of work. So, strictly speaking, those who now find that their workspace is in their own home, even for just some of the time, have experienced a variation to their contract.

The homeworking issue has two sides however. We know that some businesses are keen to return to a fully manned office but are finding resistance from members of their team who have discovered benefits to home working and are eager to continue the arrangement. For this population, a formal request for flexible working would be the usual course of action, although this can be refused.

Just as we had no idea that the pandemic was on its way, nor do we truly know if and when things will return to something that resembles the way they used to be. It’s common reasoning that some of the changes to our lifestyles, both personal and work related will prove to be permanent. But when will that permanency take hold so that we know we are existing in the so called “new normal”?

Contracts of employment underpin the very concept of Employment Law and provide a set of rules against which both employee and employer can be held to account. During the pandemic, as we have discussed, there has been a degree of elasticity in how these rules have been applied, but this can’t continue indefinitely. Uncertainty in the terms under which someone is employed is highly likely to lead to problems.

We have helped many clients deal with employee issues raised because of an ambiguous clause or term in their contract. So whilst we’ve seen some leniency in enforcement of terms over the last 18 months, companies really should be thinking about how they plan to run their businesses going forward. If the economy sees the growth that’s been forecast, there will be lots of new employees and they need to be signed up to contracts that are fit for purpose and reflect how the business operates.

We’ve always recommended keeping contracts of employment and staff handbooks regularly updated and that message has even greater pertinence now. Since April 2020 employees must be given a contract from day one, so it’s a good idea to have yours prepared in readiness so you’re not putting together a rushed document.

Going forward, we should learn some lessons from the pandemic and plan for the unexpected as much as possible. We don’t know what the next big issue will be, but we can probably make some decisions that pre-empt some potential problems. For example, periods of adverse weather are likely to increase and so keeping a working from home option in the contract may be a good idea. A compulsory vaccination clause, whilst questionable, might at least be worth exploring if it’s relevant to your industry.

The important thing is not to think that your contracts can’t be amended, at least for new employees. They should be relevant and reflective of the current working environment.
We make sure we’re on top of current trends and legislation so f you would like us to review your employment contracts and staff handbooks, or if you need support with any other aspects of HR and Employment Law, please contact us on 01452 331331 or by e-mail on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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HR Champions provide first class HR and Employment Law support and advice to UK businesses; operationally and strategically. If you're an employer you'll potentially need some, if not all, of the services we offer.

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