Labour Research April 2009

Law Queries

Variation of contract

Q. Our local authority employer suddenly decided to reserve its car parking spaces for managers. Care workers, who need to use their cars because public transport is impractical, have lost their parking spaces. They are predominantly East European women and the managers are white British women. What can we do?

A. If the care workers had a contractual right to park on the premises, the change is a unilateral variation of contract and the employer should have consulted and obtained agreement.

If the breach of contract is sufficiently serious — and the consequences may make it so — it would also entitle the workers (provided they are employees with at least one year’s service) to resign and pursue a hazardous constructive dismissal claim. Whether or not they had a contractual right to park on the premises, there may be discrimination issues.

The practice of allowing only managers to park on the premises is potentially indirect race discrimination if it particularly disadvantages East European workers as opposed to British workers. It will only be unlawful, however, if the employer fails to justify the new rule by showing it is a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim.

Also, public authorities are supposed to comply with a public sector race duty which generally includes carrying out impact assessments prior to introducing new policies.

If the Council has failed to make such an assessment,it does give you some scope for negotiation.