Clear and concise contract variation clauses

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A recent case has sent a timely reminder to schools, that they should ensure that variation clauses within employment contracts are sufficiently clear and expressly allow for unilateral contract variations.  Otherwise they run the risk of such clauses being unenforceable and as a result, cannot be relied upon to impose unilateral changes.

This reminder comes courtesy of the decision of the EAT in the case of Hart v St Mary’s School (Colchester) Ltd UKEAT/0305/14, where it was held that a part-time teacher suffered a breach of contract which caused her to resign.  This was because the school required her to work her contracted hours over five days, rather than three.  The employment contract contained various relevant terms, including one which stated that working hours may be “subject to variation, depending upon the requirements of the school timetable”.  However, the EAT overturned the tribunal’s finding that the terms allowed the school to impose unilateral change and held that the terms did not expressly provide for a unilateral variation.  The EAT also overturned the tribunal’s finding that the teacher did not resign in response to a repudiatory breach and remitted that issue to a different tribunal.

For more information, help or advice on your employment contracts please contact Jill Donabie on 0191 211 7933.