Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Care with changes to employees’ T&Cs

Asda, as a branch of Walmart, formally calls its workers 'colleagues' and their terms and conditions are contained in the Colleagues' Handbook. The handbook includes a clause which says that the company "reserves the right to review, revise, amend or replace the contents of this handbook and introduce new policies from time to time reflecting the changing needs of the business and to comply with new legislation."

Normally, to change workers' terms and conditions involves consultation and agreement. Asda decided to change the terms and conditions and those colleagues who objected were told they were changing anyway. They took the matter to an employment tribunal.

In Bateman and Others v Asda Stores, the tribunal quoted previous judgements. The general position is that contracts can only be changed by agreement; however if there is a specific statement in the initial contract that terms and conditions can be varied - and the statement has to be clear and specific as to what it refers to - then they may be changed as long as there is nothing capricious or arbitrary about the change. Although the Asda provision was far-ranging, it was clear and unambiguous. It therefore met that standard and the employees lost their case.

This case acts as a reminder of the general principle that contracts can only be changed with consent, though minor changes without consent are legally acceptable. It would be worthwhile having a look at how much flexibility the terms and conditions and initial job descriptions of colleagues give management in these increasingly difficult times.

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