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There will be times when it may be needed to change the way some things are done in the business or home.  Changes to working hours or commission structures, place of work or amendments to some form of benefits. These changes are called unilateral changes and need to be dealt with very carefully.

Any unilateral change that affects the original terms or conditions of employment, if not implemented in a fair manner, could be seen as an unfair labour practice and in some instances constitute a dismissal.

Any working relationship is brought about by an agreement of terms and conditions. Any implementation of changes to the original terms or conditions effectively become new terms or conditions. If the employee has not agreed to these new terms, there is effectively no working agreement. An employment contract constitutes an agreement between two people, and the one party to the agreement cannot change the terms of that agreement without the consent of the other party. To do so would place the party making the change in breach of contract. This in turn leads to unhappy staff, possible strikes and without doubt a visit to the CCMA.

The bottom line here is consult. If you need to make changes, start a consultation process and outline the reasons the changes are needed to your employee’s. Hear them out and take their concerns into consideration.  The law balances very strongly in the employee’s favor in this so tread lightly when making unilateral changes. This is not saying your staff can refuse any change. If a fair consultation process has been done and the changes are fair and operationally justified, you are within in your rights to make changes. Should you encounter problems or refusals, there are processes to address these. As a last resort and in some cases, retrenchments could be implemented but before it gets to this, think the process through first. A proper consultation process in most cases smooths the way for both parties to reach agreement on any new terms or conditions. As with all these guides, this is only an overview and each case should be dealt with on its own merits. If you are not sure, rather contact us for guidance.