Bateman v Asda Stores 2010 UKEAT0221/09/1102

Asda wished to ensure that all their staff were employed on the same pay and work structures and this meant that they all had to transfer to a new regime. Most employees agreed but some did not. When the new regime was imposed on them 6 test Claimants brought claims for unauthorised deductions from their wages. Asda contended that they were entitled to impose the new conditions because the staff handbook stated that Asda reserved the right to review, revise, amend or replace the contents of this handbook and introduce new policies from time to time to reflect the changing needs of the business. The handbook also provided details of pay and other conditions of employment.

The EAT held that a broad contractual right to alter terms and conditions of employment in line with business needs can permit an employer to make unilateral changes to contractual terms including pay and hours of work without the need for the express consent of the employees provided that the changes were properly implemented and the employer acted in line with its implied duty to maintain trust and confidence.

On the facts the court held that Asda had acted properly in harmonising terms and conditions of employment for a small proportion of staff who refused to agree to a new pay structure. The decision might have been different if Asda had chosen to introduce a more radical change to the employees’ detriment. The majority of affected employees were not claiming that the change would cause them any financial loss, indeed only one of the 6 test Claimants contended that she would suffer a loss due to the move to the new regime.

Key point: The decision is useful for employers wishing to make changes but they must be careful to avoid breaching the implied term and breach of trust and confidence. Proper consultation with the employees should be undertaken. Including a clear and unambiguous clause in a contract or handbook should also be considered.