A breach of employment contract is where certain terms agreed to between you and your employer are not met by either your employer or by you as the employee.
Your contract of employment is a statement as to the rights and responsibilities of both you and your employer during your period of employment.
As with all legally binding contracts, both parties are obliged to comply with the terms they have agreed to otherwise action can be taken to enforce the terms that have been breached. Therefore if your employer has breached your employment contract, you may be able to take action to correct or seek damages for the breach.
Common examples of breach of employment contract by an employer could include:
- not paying you the correct amount
- not following correct procedures
- changing where you work or your working pattern without your agreement
- dismissing you without following disciplinary procedures
Most employers have written contracts of employment to make it clear to both parties what is expected of them and what they can expect in return.
A contract does not however need to be a written statement for it to be enforceable and is still legally binding if it is a verbal agreement. In addition, some contractual terms are automatically implied by law which both you and your employer must adhere to even if they are not written or verbalised. Take advice from experienced legal adviser to understand your position in relation to the terms of your employment contract.
What should I do if my employer breaches the contract?
Check the terms of your employment contract and speak to your employer about the problem as the issue may be a rectifiable error. If informal action doesn’t resolve the issue, you should make a formal complaint which would usually be determined by organisation’s grievance procedure.
Can I make a claim against my employer for breach of contract?
If you are unable to resolve the issue by way of internal resolution, you have the option to take your employer to an employment tribunal for remedial action. Taking your employer to an employment tribunal is a last resort for those in otherwise unresolvable situations; such as those that lead to potentially unfair dismissal or your resignation (constructive dismissal).
There are time limits if you wish to take your employer to a tribunal for breach of contract, so you must ensure you file your claim within three months of the breach or of employment ending.
You must also have been working for your employer for at least 2 years before you can take them to tribunal for constructive or unfair dismissal.
If you are eligible to claim and decide you want to take your employer to a tribunal, there are a number of preliminary steps to follow.
The first step when taking your employer to a tribunal for breach of employment contract is to inform the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Services (Acas) of your intention to bring a claim.
Acas will then arrange with you and your employer early conciliation in an attempt to resolve the situation without having to take it to a tribunal. Going through the process of early conciliation is required before proceeding to tribunal.
What is early conciliation?
Early conciliation is a way for employers and employees to resolve disputes without going through the legal process of a tribunal. It is designed to be quicker, less stressful and less financially costly due to the time it takes going through the tribunal process.
- How long does it last?
Acas provides an initial period of one month of early conciliation and can extend this period by up to 2 weeks where necessary to resolve the situation.
Early conciliation will not affect your time limits when making a claim to the employment tribunal, and the amount of time you had remaining before starting conciliation will restart once it is complete.
Once early conciliation has been completed, you will be issued with an early conciliation certificate; which is required for making a claim, and the time limit for making a claim to the employment tribunal restarts.
Ideally early conciliation will resolve the dispute and avoid the need for a tribunal claim; however, if early conciliation did not resolve the issue, you can then proceed to make an employment tribunal claim.
How do I make a claim?
You can apply to the employment tribunal for breach of employment contract online or by post using form ET1. You will need to provide details of both your employer and your employment along with your early conciliation certificate. You will also need to provide details of your income from the employment, so it is useful to have these details to hand when completing the form.
The form also asks what type of claim you are making. This includes:
- Unfair dismissal (including constructive dismissal)
- Redundancy payment or other money owed
- Other reasons covered by the tribunal’s jurisdiction
You will also need to provide details surrounding the basis of your claim for breach of employment contract, along with details of the remedy you are seeking.
Once the tribunal has accepted your form, it will normally arrange a hearing to hear the case.
- What happens at the hearing?
Both sides will present their case including all evidence and witnesses where necessary. The tribunal judge will then declare a decision at the time of the hearing, or you will receive the decision through the post.
- What remedies are available?
Where you are claiming through the tribunal for breach of employment contract, the tribunal can award compensation. However the tribunal can only award an amount up to £25,000; therefore if you are claiming for more than this, you may need to take the breach to the civil courts.
If the breach has alternative non-financial remedies available, these may also be awarded in addition to compensation for any money owed. This can be things such as getting your position back if you have been dismissed or improving your working conditions.
- What if I disagree with the decision?
If you disagree with the tribunal’s decision, you can ask them to reconsider. There is a time limit of 14 days in which you can do this, so it’s important to act quickly if you aren’t satisfied.
If you feel that the tribunal has made an error in its application of the law, you can ask the Employment Appeal Tribunal to hear the appeal.
Why legal advice helps
Deciding to take your employer to an employment tribunal for breach of employment contract can be a complex and stressful process, and is generally seen as a last resort. There are strict limitation periods in place in relation to making a claim, and it can take a long time for the claim to be settled if it proceeds through the entire tribunal process. Your employer is also able to raise a counterclaim against you if they have reason to, so it’s important to seek legal advice as soon as possible to ensure you understand the full range of options available to you.