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Employment procedures such as absence management policies may either be contractual (in which case they cannot be changed without the employees’ agreement) or non-contractual. Generally, policies written in the form of guidelines for managers or which set out a framework for how to deal with particular situations are not regarded as contractual. If the employment documents do not state whether a particular procedure is contractual, the courts decide this by looking at the wording of the procedure to see if it suggests a right for employees or whether it reads more like guidelines or a framework.
In this case, the employer tried to introduce a new absence management procedure. The employees argued that the previous procedure was contractual and therefore the changes were of no effect. The High Court and Court of Appeal agreed that the wording suggested the procedure was contractual. It read as if it conferred a right and was amongst other provisions in the Staff Handbook which were clearly contractual.
If employers want to ensure that their policies are non-contractual and can therefore be changed as and when the circumstances require, it would be better to state that such policies are non-contractual
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