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Ask The Legal Expert - Altering Employees Hours in a Farm Business
I run a small farm and I need to alter some of my employees’ hours. Am I on a shaky legal footing if there is no provision in their individual contracts for me to do so?
Employers’ circumstances change and, by its nature, farming work is subject to all kinds of fluctuations that farm owners need to accommodate. So this is quite a common issue.
You are free to alter an employee’s terms, including their hours, but you must follow a formal process.
You should also be aware that the Agricultural Wages (Wales) Order 2016 specifies the minimum rates of pay and other conditions of employment for agricultural workers in Wales.
The Agricultural Wages (Wales) Order 2016 replaced the last wages order made by the Agricultural Wages Board in 2012 and it is intended to be an interim measure, to remain in force until a new agricultural wages order is made based on the recommendations of the Agricultural Advisory Panel for Wales.
It is important that you try to reach an agreement with your employee regarding any changes, these agreed changes must then be followed up in writing.
If an agreement can’t be reached in this way you should initiate a consultation process.
As part of this, you will have to demonstrate that there is a genuine business need for the variation and that you have a carried out meaningful consultation with staff regarding the proposed changes.
The next step would involve you terminating the original contract and re-engaging your employee immediately on new terms.
You should give notice as stipulated under the current employment contract and then re-engage on the new terms at the end of this period.
Using this process there is a risk that this termination, though it is simply a formality, could be seen as a dismissal and your employee may therefore argue that the termination was unfair.
So the process isn't without its complexities, and, as is often the case in employment law, the ideal scenario is for both parties to have an honest discussion before the process begins and to come to an agreement regarding the way forward.
The question posed in this blog is based on a hypothetical situation.