The news that more than 100 Clarks shoes staff are considering strike action over so-called fire-and-rehire practices serves as a timely reminder for employers that changes to contractual terms and conditions must be done in a fair way, or industrial action could be hot on their heels.
Julia Fitzimmons, employment law expert and partner with FBC Manby Bowdler, explains how best to tackle employment contract changes, while maintaining good employee relations:
Dismissal and re-engagement – or fire-and-rehire as it’s become known – is a controversial practice used to change employment contracts, essentially dismissing workers and hiring them back on new (and often less favourable) contracts.
Since the pandemic, fire-and-rehire practice has become more common. Of course, for some businesses to stay profitable or indeed afloat over the past 18 months, it may have been necessary to adjust employee terms and conditions to ensure the workforce could be flexible to the new normal.
But there is growing concern that some employers are taking advantage of the uncertainty in the job market to force through contract changes without proper consultation and without working with staff on possible alternative solutions.
Current unfair dismissal and collective rights give workers protection against fire-and-rehire and several big name companies (including British Airways, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, British Gas and Tesco) have been involved in disputes around the use of such tactics, as well as many small and medium-sized employers, according to ACAS.
To avoid getting into a legal wrangling with staff over contract changes, employers are advised to work with their employees in the first instance to come to an agreement over any proposed amends. As well as avoiding the possibility of unfair dismissal claims, it will also help to maintain a positive working environment where staff feel valued.
The Government has said that it doesn’t intend to ban fire-and-rehire practice but its line is clear that it should only be used as a last resort – and not a negotiating tactic.
If the number of disputes continues to rise, there may well be official Government guidance issued in the future, however a change in legislation is not likely to be on the cards just yet.
As best practice, employers should avoid incendiary negotiating options and instead work on building solid industrial relations with their workforce to gain the trust and support of staff, who will then be more willing to come to the table over contractual changes.
If you’d like to discuss the best way to approach contractual terms, contact Julia Fitzsimmons on 01952 208420 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.