Hong Kong: navigating the quickly altering working world – what to contemplate when various contractual phrases

From our latest Way forward for Work Report 2023: Balancing Acts, we are able to see that the business panorama continues to evolve quickly, and employers could discover themselves confronted with adjustments starting from technological developments in AI to organisational restructuring. In these circumstances, employers could must amend present workers’ employment contracts to successfully handle their operations in response to the rising calls for and wishes. This text explores what employers ought to keep in mind when effecting variation of contracts.

The place an worker has entered into an employment contract with an employer, an modification of the phrases and situations of the employment could in sure circumstances require consent from the worker, such that the events ought to enter right into a contract addendum or a brand new employment contract. In these instances, the employer ought to be sure that ample authorized consideration is supplied for the variation.

What’s authorized consideration?

A binding contractual settlement requires the satisfaction of sure components, together with a suggestion, acceptance of that supply and authorized consideration. Consideration is often some kind of cost, worth or discount given by one get together in trade for the opposite get together’s promise. The regulation isn’t involved with whether or not the worth of consideration supplied is enough compared to the worth obtained, so in idea, token consideration (of say $1) would suffice.

In circumstances the place the worker is already obliged to carry out work underneath a contract of employment, the query of authorized consideration for various the contractual phrases is one in all “actual profit” (Take a look at for Consideration), i.e. whether or not the employer gained a profit or averted any detriment:

  • In Wu Package Man v Dragonway Group Holdings Restricted [2018] HKCA107, the employer issued an addendum to the contract providing sure money bonuses to the worker in relation to the employer/holding firm’s itemizing plan and in trade for her remaining in employment previous a sure date. The money bonus in query was HK$350,000 payable even when the employer/holding firm’s itemizing plan ceased or if the worker left the employer for no matter motive earlier than 31 December 2016. The worker’s employment was terminated earlier than that date however the employer didn’t pay the money bonus in accordance with the addendum, and he or she made a declare within the Labour Tribunal for the money bonus. The Tribunal upheld the declare, however upon attraction by the employer the Courtroom of First Occasion stated that the addendum was not supported by consideration, and thus the worker was not entitled to the money bonus. The Courtroom of Enchantment confirmed that the Take a look at for Consideration was the suitable take a look at, and remitted the case to the Tribunal for re-determination on the query of consideration for the addendum.
  • In Chong Cheng Lin Courtney v Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd [2010] HKCA 338, the proposition that the non-exercise by an worker of their proper to terminate underneath the contract of employment is sweet consideration, however the Courtroom of Enchantment emphasised that it is very important have a look at the circumstances of the case and the context by which the variation befell. The variation on this case was of normal phrases throughout the board to all cabin attendants employed by the employer when there was competitors from different airways providing related packages. Towards the particular circumstances, the Courtroom held that the Take a look at for Consideration was glad – the consideration was supplied was by the worker refraining from resigning, and this was an actual profit to the employer.
Sensible suggestions for employers

Various the contractual phrases and situations of an worker’s contract of employment would require an worker’s settlement, and authorized consideration to help the settlement.

The place an modification ends in an enchancment of employment phrases and situations, virtually the probability of problem is low and a notification could suffice.

Nevertheless, if the modification is so as to add a brand new time period or situation, equivalent to rising a discover interval or including post-termination restrictions, or a change which is on the worker’s detriment, equivalent to a wage discount or removing of advantages, the worker’s consent must be sought, in any other case there’s a danger that the worker could argue they’re constructively dismissed.

The type of authorized consideration in help of a variation is dependent upon the information and circumstances. Some examples embody a one-off money cost, or an additional paid day-off. In the end, any authorized consideration supplied should fulfill the Take a look at for Consideration set out above, particularly when one get together is on the face of issues, merely promising to carry out its present obligations. Another is executing a variation of contract as a deed, though that is much less ordinary and will elevate different sensible considerations equivalent to problem in attractive an worker to signal the deed.

The place an modification isn’t contractual in nature, usually notifying the worker would suffice. An employer should nonetheless be sure that it acts rationally and never capriciously in exercising discretion and deciding to implement such a change.

Herbert Smith Freehills has in depth expertise working with shoppers to implement new methods of working throughout the area, together with advising on any notification, consent, consideration and session necessities to implement such adjustments. To seek out out extra, contact [email protected].

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