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Effect of not objecting to contract variations

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Wess v Science Museum Group

In this case the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) has held that an employment tribunal was entitled to find that an employee had impliedly accepted a variation of her contract of employment by continuing to work, without expressly objecting to it, for 9 years.

The Claimant was employed in various curator roles from 1979. Originally she had been entitled to 6 months’ notice of termination. In 2003, she was sent a new contract which, amongst other changes, purported to reduce her notice entitlement to 12 weeks. She never signed the contract, as requested, but neither did she say that she objected to the new terms. She continued to work without objection until her dismissal.

The employment tribunal found that the Claimant had impliedly assented to a variation of her contract, and the EAT held that that was a reasonable conclusion. Although tribunals must be cautious in finding implied acceptance of a unilaterally-imposed new term whose effect is not immediate, the employer had made it plain in this case that future employment was offered on the basis of an entirely new contract.

In Practice

Employment Associate Paul Burton says, “The result of this case is legally right on the facts, even though some employees may think it is unfair after the variation was imposed by the employer. We always advise employers to try and get employees to sign off variations of contracts of employment, but this case demonstrates that it is not fatal even if an employee does not do so.”

At Frettens, all of our solicitors offer a free initial meeting or chat on the phone to answer your questions. If this article raises issues for you or your business, please call us on 01202 499255 and Kate or Paul will be happy to discuss it with you.