The High Court heard a claim brought by seven Claimants employed by different agencies within the Department for Transport in the case of Sparks v Department of Transport (2015).

The DoT agencies each had a departmental staff handbook which stated that all of the terms that were apt for incorporation, were to be incorporated into the employees' contracts of employment.

The attendance management procedures were different in different agencies in terms of the number of days of absence required before an informal sickness review process was triggered, varying from 8 - 21 days.

The DoT consulted with its staff about implementing a standardised attendance management procedure across all agencies, but the consultation was unsuccessful.

The DoT subsequently informed its staff that it would be unilaterally imposing the change and the Claimants applied to the High Court for a declaration that their contracts had not and would not be changed by DoT's unilateral imposition of the new terms.

The High Court found in favour of the Claimants on the basis that the attendance management procedures were sufficiently clear and precise to be incorporated into the employees' contracts of employment. As such, the High Court found that DoT was not entitled to change these terms unilaterally.

This highlights that employers referring to terms in the staff handbook in employment contracts should clarify exactly which terms are intended to be contractual and which are not, in order to avoid any confusion on this point. Employers may consider having a completely non-contractual staff handbook, which will be much easier to vary.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need any advice relating to employment contracts, staff handbooks, policies and procedures.