The High Court has found that the Department for Transport was not entitled to make changes to terms in its staff handbook that had been incorporated into employees’ contracts of employment.  The Court found that an employer can only make unilateral changes in accordance with any variation provisions if such a change would not pose a detriment to employees.  

Similarly, two recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) cases have also found in favour of employees on this point.  In one case the employer could not rely on a general flexibility clause to unilaterally reduce paid sick leave and, in the other, the employer was not entitled to unilaterally vary working times where the relevant contractual clause was stated to be “subject to variation”.

This spate of cases serves as a reminder to employers to take care when attempting to rely on variation clauses to make changes to terms of employment, particularly where such changes pose a detriment to employees.

Sparks and another v Department for Transport [2015] EWHC 181 (QB)

Norman and others v National Audit Office UKEAT/0276/14

Hart v St Mary’s School (Colchester) Limited UKEAT/0305/14