Fire fighters told ‘Sign a new contract or lose your job’ But is it legal to sack someone for refusing to sign a new contract?
Thousands of London fire fighters are planning to strike on Bonfire Night following claims they are being threatened with dismissal if they do not accept changes to their employment contracts. But is this legal?
This particular row centres on the Fire Brigade’s plans to change the start and finish times of duty for its frontline fire fighters by shortening the current night shift from 15 hours to 11 hours, in favour of a longer daytime working period of 13 hours from the originally agreed 9 hours.
Union bosses say new contracts being forced on fire fighters would mean a ‘worsening of pay and conditions in what is already a very stressful job.’
According to Robert Tice, partner and head of employment at law firm Flint Bishop LLP “It is possible to dismiss employees if they do not sign new contracts. However there are a number of different ways in which employers may go about trying to change employment contracts, some of which carry a greater risk than others.
The lowest risk option for most employers would be to secure their employee’s consent to the changes so that they are made with the agreement of both parties. This may involve negotiations with the individual employees and/or their representatives. If the employer is able to explain the reasons why they believe the changes to be necessary and gain the employees’ understanding, a mutual agreement may be reached which suits both parties.
Problems arise where the employer cannot secure the employees’ agreement. Where an employer goes ahead with planned changes despite opposition from its employees they may face potential claims for breach of contact, unfair dismissal and more.
Whether such claims are successful will depend on a number of factors such as the impact the change has on the employee, whether there was any consultation with employees prior to the change and the reasons why the changes were made. Unfortunately, due to the number of variables involved it is difficult for employers to know exactly how far they can go in these situations without falling foul of the Employment Tribunal and what it would consider to be reasonable in the circumstances.
In light of the circumstances in this area, we would suggest that any employer contemplating changing contracts of employment think carefully about the best way to go about it. If an employer is in any doubt as to what they can and can’t do in relation to contracts of employment they should seek advice from an employment specialist.