Employment Contract Disputes

30 January 2018

Your employment contract is a key document which defines the terms and conditions of your employment. Most employees will be issued with a written contract of employment but verbal contracts are also valid; although verbal contracts are harder to prove if a dispute arises. In accordance with the Employment Rights Act 1996 section 1 the employer has to provide an employee with a written statement of particulars of employment within two months of starting work with the employer.

Common types of employment contract disputes include:

  • Pay
  • Holiday
  • Bonuses/commission
  • Sickness absence
  • Notice periods
  • Restrictive covenants/post termination restrictions
  • TUPE
  • Variation of terms.

What Should You Do When a Dispute Arises?

If an employment contract dispute arises, the first step that you should take is to speak to your manager informally to raise your concerns. If you do not feel comfortable discussing the dispute with your manager then you could choose to speak to a more senior manager instead, or a HR representative.

Raising a Grievance

If the dispute can’t be resolved informally, then the next step would be to raise a formal grievance. Most employers in England and Wales will have a formal grievance procedure in place which can usually be found in a company handbook, on the intranet or in your employment contract. This should be the first point of reference when raising a formal grievance with your employer. 

If your employer does not have a formal grievance procedure in place, then Acas and the Labour Relations Agency both provide guidance on the correct procedure to follow. If you require assistance with the grievance process, then you should seek legal advice from an Employment Solicitor.

The grievance process should include (but may not be limited to) the following steps:

  • Writing a formal letter to your employer detailing the reasons for the grievance
  • Arranging a formal meeting with your employer to discuss the issues. You are entitled to be accompanied by a friend, colleague or union representative at this meeting
  • An opportunity to appeal your employer’s decision.

Early Conciliation through ACAS

If the employment contract dispute is still not resolved you can start Early Conciliation through Acas (this process is also known as ACAS EC). The Early Conciliation process provides an opportunity for your employer to resolve the dispute with you, without the need for either of you to attend Court.

It is usually preferable to settle the matter at this stage as this is nearly always a quicker, cheaper and less stressful option for both the employer and the employee than going to Court.

Lodging a Court Claim for Breach of Contract

If it’s not possible to resolve the dispute using Early Conciliation and there has been a breach of your employment contract, then the next step you would take would be to lodge an Employment Tribunal claim for breach of contract.

It’s important to note that the Employment Tribunal is strict on deadlines and most claims will need to be lodged within 3 months (less one day) from the date that the act occurred which has triggered the dispute.

You do have the option to lodge the breach of contract complaint in a County Court instead, and the deadline to do this would usually be 6 years from the date of the breach. However, you cannot bring a claim in both the Employment Tribunal and the County Court as you are not allowed to ‘double recover’. That is, you are not allowed to lodge two separate complaints in two Courts for the same thing.

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