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Employment Law Case Update: Department for Transport v Sparks and ors

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Does your staff hand book work properly in conjunction with employee’s terms and conditions? If not, you could run into claims.  In Department for Transport v Sparks and ors the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court - that a provision set out in the staff handbook had been incorporated into the contract of employment. This meant a new policy which the employer had purported to introduce was not effective to vary the terms of employment and therefore not binding on employees.

Seven claimants had a departmental staff handbook which was based on a standard form across the whole of the Department for Transport. In particular, the absence management policy differed slightly with regard to the number of days of absence required before a formal procedure could be triggered.

The handbook stated that all its terms were to be incorporated into employees’ contracts of employment.

In July 2012 after unsuccessful negotiations to amend contracts of employment, the DoT told the claimants’ trade unions that it would be imposing a new attendance management procedure across all its departments. Under the new procedure, the process would be triggered after five days or three occasions of absence within a rolling 12 month period.

The claimants applied to the High Court for a ruling that their terms and conditions had not been changed.

The High Court held that the provisions for the attendance management procedure had been set out and had been incorporated into the employees’ contracts and the DoT was not entitled to change the terms unilaterally. The court also found the changes were detrimental because employees would face the possibility of formal sanctions at an earlier stage.

The DoT appealed to the Court of Appeal which upheld the High Court Decision, stating that whether a provision in the handbook had been incorporated into an employment contract will depend upon the precise terms of the documents in each case. In this case the wording of the handbook was clear as to what was to be incorporated into the contracts.

This decision is helpful to employers as even though each case will turn on its facts, it highlights the importance to draft both employment contracts and staff handbooks clearly. This is to determine the intentions of the employer at the time of the employee agreeing to certain terms.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.