Splashed across the news today, you can’t fail to notice the uproar caused by Harry and Meghan’s decision to step back from royal life. Despite many months of discussion between themselves, it seems they chose not to consult any senior royals before making an announcement to the outside world.
The declaration from the Duke and Duchess is a salutary reminder of the hurt and upset which is often caused when there is a unilateral decision and a departure from established procedure. It’s a practice we as employment lawyers spend our lives cautioning against (not in the Royal context, I might add).
Why? Well, employment law is predicated on a relationship of mutual trust and confidence. It’s one of the principles which underpins the contract and is so important that it’s a given; you rarely find it written into a contract of employment but nevertheless it sits there in the background anyway.
The key word of course is ‘mutual’; not only should an employer be able to trust and have confidence in its employees but employees are entitled to expect their employer to act fairly and reasonably to maintain trust too.
That’s why unilateral decisions are a big no-no when it comes to the fundamentals of a job. It’s not fair to change the goalposts without first consulting the person or people it affects. Often we see employers fall into the trap accidentally because it’s easy to focus on the business and its needs and forget that the decisions we make affect others in what is a substantial part of their lives (perhaps in ways we don’t even realise).
More often than not, employers can achieve their desired outcomes provided they approach it in the right way. Subject to the change, consultation often doesn’t need to be an overly formal process and you might hear us refer to attempting ‘consultation with a little c’ first. Often it’s sensible to test the water, talk to your employees and see what issues might be thrown up by the change you are thinking of making. There might be an easy way to keep everyone happy and happy employees don’t generally bring claims.
If you've got questions or need help with managing a change, give a member of our Employment Law Team a call.