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Flexibility Clauses – What Are They?

I’m often asked about the section in your employment contract where it states that you may be asked to carry out duties in addition to your role that are deemed reasonable. People ask questions like “what is this?”, “what does it mean?” and “can my employer change my job?” 

As these are common concerns that people have about their employment contracts I thought it would help to explain how an employer might be able to make changes to your job title and duties.

There are three ways in which your employer can make changes to your employment contract:

  • If the wording of your contract already allows your employer to make the changes to your role
  • If your contract includes a specific flexibility clause relating to your job title and role which allows your employer to make changes
  • If your contract includes a general right to make changes to your terms (known as a variation term).

Just because any of these clauses may be in your contract doesn’t mean that your employer can make the change without breaching your contract.

When an employment contract says you may be expected to carry out other ‘reasonable’ duties that are asked of you besides those associated with your main duties it is known as a ‘flexibility clause’.
The inclusion of a flexibility clause in your contract may enable the duties of your role to be changed within reason.

What should you do if your employer is looking to change your job title or the duties of your role?

First of all - check your contract. Examine how broadly defined your job title and duties are in your contract and within any job description. The exact wording will be important to decide whether the change is allowed. Is there a flexibility clause?

Secondly, check your employment contract to see if there is a general variation term. This is a clause that allows employers to change any terms or conditions within your contract without asking you.

This type of clause tries to get round the general principle that any changes to your employment contract must be agreed by you. Courts and tribunals only very rarely uphold these types of clauses.

Employers cannot change your job in any way they want to just because a variation term exists. They may try and use a general variation term to change your job description but they are unlikely to be able to rely on a variation term in making changes that will significantly disadvantage you, such as taking overtime away from you or reducing your number of working hours.

If there is a flexibility or variation term in your contract then that does not mean you cannot challenge any changes to your contract that your employer wishes to make. If an employer goes too far in the changes they make then it could be a breach of trust and actually breach the contract you hold with them.

If you are certain that you do not agree to a change made to your job title or any additional responsibilities added to your role then you should make it clear that you do not agree to the change and state why in writing to your employer.

Contact an employment contract solicitor if you are unsure about your position in regards to a change of your employment contract. They can advise on whether you have to agree to the change or how you should object.

Harriet Bowtell is a senior employment solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

Slater and Gordon have all the necessary experience and technical expertise to successfully deal with employment contract problems, such as issues surrounding changes to your role. Call us on freephone 0800 916 9060 or contact us online.

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