An employment contract is generally set out in writing, however a contract will exist even if it is not documented.
Employers are sometimes keen to change the terms under which their employees work, whether that’s a change in pay and benefits or a change in the nature and place of work. Making a change to the express written provisions of the contract requires employee consent. Where consent is not forthcoming an employee may have a claim against the employer for breach of contract.
In addition to terms that are expressly agreed, the employment contract comprises implied terms (unwritten terms). A key implied term is the ‘duty of mutual trust and confidence’ which requires employer and employee to act honestly and respectfully towards each other. It is possible for either party to be in breach of an implied term of the contract.
If a breach by the employer is sufficiently serious the employee will claim that the contract is ended, and they will walk out. This is called constructive dismissal, and the employee may be entitled to bring a legal claim of unfair dismissal. Alternatively the employee can choose to continue to work, albeit under the new varied terms.
An employee will be in breach of contract if there has been an instance of gross misconduct. For example, an employer needs to address gross misconduct allegations very carefully to avoid employee claims at the tribunal. Conducting a fair disciplinary procedure is paramount.
In the employment context, the expressions ‘breach of contract’ and ‘wrongful dismissal’ are often used interchangeably when the breach specifically has to do with the dismissal of the employee (for instance a failure to provide contractual notice of termination).
To discuss a breach of contract matter call us on 020 3948 1900 or complete the email enquiry box so that we can contact you.
For other legal topics return to the law library.