If TUPE applies to a transfer, those employees assigned to the transferring business will move to the new employer on their existing terms and conditions. Simply put, the new employer will 'step into the shoes' of their old employer and the employees should continue working for the new employer as if nothing had changed, apart from the name of their employer.
The above is the ideal outcome, although post-transfer difficulties may often arise. For example, the new employer may wish to try and change some of the incoming employees’ terms and conditions. However, under Regulation 4(4) of TUPE any such changes are automatically void, unless the employer can show they were in no way connected to the transfer or if they were necessary for an economic, technical or organisational reason (ETO reason) subject to employee agreement or the terms of the contract permitting the change.
Some employers may try and justify changes by arguing that they are needed due to harmonisation and therefore rely on an ETO reason. However, Government guidance and case law has restricted the application of harmonisation as a genuine reason to amend a person's terms of employment. Harmonisation will only be a valid reason if there is a change in the workforce and this must involve change in the numbers, or possibly functions, of the employees. In practice, relatively few contractual changes would involve such changes so harmonisation will rarely be used as a justifiable reason.
If the changes are part of a wider reorganisation which has nothing to do with the transfer, then they may be effective. The longer the gap between the TUPE transfer and any reorganisation, the greater the chance that the causal connection will be broken. However, there is no specific period after which it is safe to say that the connection with the TUPE transfer has been broken, as the test is whether the change is connected to the transfer. The mere passing of time does not of itself break the connection.
It is for the employer to prove that a proposed change is permissible under TUPE and if there are concerns that the changes cannot be made, this can be challenged by raising a formal grievance first and then considering making a claim in an employment tribunal.
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