Is it fair to dismiss an employee who refuses to accept employment contract changes made in response to Covid?

This was the question faced in the case brought by Ms Khatun.

What is the case about?

Ms Khatun was employed as a solicitor by the respondent law firm who specialised in road traffic accident litigation.

In March 2020, the firm announced that it was aiming to furlough 50% of its staff, and the remaining staff would be required to agree to go on furlough, or to carry out reduced hours. The reduction in hours would have resulted in a doubled caseload for Ms Khatun and an approximate 20% reduction in her wages. Ms Khatun was told if she did not agree to this, she would be dismissed.

Ms Khatun did refuse the variation and the firm subsequently dismissed her. The tribunal found that her dismissal was unfair.

The Respondent’s argument was that they had genuine business reasons for wanting to vary Ms Khatun’s contract. This was accepted by the tribunal, which then considered whether the Respondent had acted reasonably in dismissing Ms Khatun. It was decided that the Respondent did not consider alternatives to dismissing Ms Khatun and that a more reasonable approach would have been to fully discuss her options with her and address her concerns.

What should employers do?

When making changes to an employee’s contract, employers should ensure that they have meaningful consultation with those who are affected. If changes cannot be agreed, it is imperative to discuss alternative options and to avoid dismissal where possible.

You can read the full judgment of Ms A Khatun v Winn Solicitors Ltd here.

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