Unilateral Changes to Conditions of Employment

Unilateral Changes to Conditions of Employment

An employer might sometimes make a unilateral change to the original terms and conditions of employment, without realising the consequences of his action.

Illegal Changes to Conditions of Employment

The change may be in the form of a sudden reduction in salary for some reason, the removal of or reduction in some other benefit such as a bonus or something of that nature or the sudden unilateral introduction of additional terms and conditions of employment.
It seems that sometimes employers bring about these unilateral changes in an effort to upset the employee to the extent where he will resign, and some of the tactics employed include setting unattainable and unrealistic targets, and things of that nature.

What Employers should know about Changes to Employment Contracts

Employers should note that any significant variation in the terms and conditions of employment of an employee may constitute a dismissal in terms of section 186 of the Labour Relations Act. Put differently, by enforcing unilateral changes, the existing contract of employment is effectively terminated, and substituted by a new contract.

This does not mean that every unilateral amendment of employment terms and conditions will be seen as a dismissal, but rather that the employer wishes to continue the employment relationship but on altered terms, which have not been agreed to by the employee and where the employer has not consulted with the employee on the changes.

Contracts are between two parties

Generally, changes to terms and conditions of employment cannot be made without prior consultation with the employee on the proposed changes, and the employee’s agreement must be obtained. This is because a contract of employment constitutes an agreement between two parties, and the one party to the agreement cannot change the terms of that agreement without the consent of the other party. To do so would place the party making the change in breach of contract.