The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has confirmed that Asda was entitled to rely on a paragraph in its staff handbook in order to impose significant changes to terms and conditions for over 8,000 staff. The handbook reserved the employer's right to review, revise, amend or replace its contents, as well as to replace policies. The EAT endorsed the employment tribunal's decision that this provision allowed Asda to introduce a new pay and work structure unilaterally - in other words without the consent of the employees involved. At first sight this decision provides significant encouragement for employers seeking to rely on similar wording to impose changes to contractual terms. But on closer examination it may prove to be an exceptional case.
Asda wished to move around 10 per cent of its 150,000 workforce onto modernised terms and conditions under which the remainder of its staff were already engaged. Of the minority employed under the old-style terms, more than half agreed to change, leaving about 8,700 who refused to transfer to the new terms after the consultation process had ended. 700 claims ensued, but only one of six test claimants was able to show that she had suffered an overall loss as a result of the new regime. That meant that many arguments that claimants typically deploy when an employer attempts to push through such changes unilaterally were not available. For example a powerful case can often be made that imposing changes which significantly disadvantage employees amounts to a breach of the implied duty to uphold mutual trust and confidence, even if the staff handbook purports to give the employer the right to do this.
Click below for the full decision (Bateman v Asda Stores).