The TUPE effect

The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) protects employees if the business in which they are employed changes ownership.

It applies to employees of any size of business in the UK regardless of where the head office is located. In addition, employees of a UK business who are based outside the UK can still be protected in certain circumstances.

The effect of TUPE (except when the business is insolvent) is that the employee’s job transfers to the new company along with their existing employment terms and conditions.

If the employer is insolvent and the business is being transferred to or taken over by another company, the protection employees get is different from a normal transfer. The employees are unlikely to be protected under TUPE if the business is closing down, there are however specific provisions available depending upon the circumstances and the requirement to consult will still apply, even if a company becomes insolvent at very short notice.

TUPE can be complex in nature and we strongly advise that employers seek professional advice before they proceed.

There are two types of TUPE transfer under the regulations:

  • Business transfers – where a business or part of a business moves from one employer to another. This can include mergers where two companies close and form a new one.
  • Service provision changes – where an in-house service (e.g. cleaning or workplace catering) is outsourced to a contractor or a current contract ends and is given to a new contractor or the work is transferred in-house by the former customer. Employees are not protected under TUPE if the contract is for the supply of goods for the company’s use (e.g. a restaurant changing food suppliers) or for a single event/short-term task (e.g. a catering company being used for a corporate event). Only the employees who can be clearly identified as providing the services being transferred are protected.

A good example of a sector that is subject to frequent service provision change is cleaning and facilities and TUPE becomes a factor when a client retenders and appoints a new cleaning or facilities provider. TUPE will usually apply, even if only one employee undertakes work for that particular client.

If there’s a trade union in the workplace, the employer must inform and consult with the representatives from the union. Employers with less than ten employees can inform and consult directly with employees. Otherwise, employee representatives must be informed and consulted. If there are no representatives they must be specially elected in accordance with TUPE for the purpose of the transfer.

Employee’s representatives must be consulted about anything that will affect employees and new Employers should try to gain agreement about any proposed changes, often referred to as “measure items”.

Four weeks before the transfer the existing employer must provide the new employer with information about employees. This normally includes:

  • name
  • age
  • main details of employment
  • disciplinary action taken against employees in the last two years
  • grievances raised by employees in the last two years
  • legal action taken by employees against the employer in the last two years
  • potential legal action the employer thinks employees might raise

TUPE regulations mean employees shouldn’t lose their existing employment rights. The new employer takes over employees’ employment contracts, including all the previous terms and conditions of employment, holiday entitlement, period of continuous employment and any collective agreements previously made. It’s a breach of contract if the new employer doesn’t meet the terms of the previous employment contract. Any failures of the previous employer to observe employees’ rights may enable employees to make a retrospective claim for discrimination against the new employer, even if the failure took place before the transfer, it is therefore usually the case that an indemnity is sought by the new employer from the existing employer prior to the transfer taking place.

Employees can refuse to work for the new employer. This is the same as resigning – they won’t normally be able to claim unfair dismissal or redundancy pay. Notice isn’t required. The employee simply tells the employer, or the new employer, that they do not wish to transfer before the transfer happens. Employment then ends at the time of transfer. But be aware that if an employee’s proposed working conditions are significantly worse because of the transfer, they can object to the transfer, or resign and claim unfair dismissal.

If an employer knows that an employee is transferring to another company, they can’t normally change the employee’s terms and conditions to make them the same as those of the new company – even if the employee agrees to the change. Also, the new employer can’t change the terms and conditions if the reason is the transfer itself.

The new employer can change an employee’s terms and conditions by agreement if it is for an ‘economic reason’ (to do with how the company is performing), a ‘technical reason’ (to do with the equipment or processes the company uses) or an ‘organisational reason’ (to do with the structure of the company) involving changes in the workforce or workplace, such as a result of redundancies or a move from a managerial to a non-managerial position.
After the transfer employers can improve employees’ terms and conditions only with agreement. For example, an increase in the amount of holiday to achieve equity.

Employees can be dismissed for an economic, technical, or organisational reason involving changes in the workforce (redundancies) and the normal rules around fair dismissal apply.

Collective agreements in place before the date of the transfer must be honoured, but the terms and conditions in the agreement can be renegotiated after one year if the change isn’t less favourable to the employee.

Employees’ company pension rights earned up to the time of a transfer are protected, but the new employer doesn’t have to continue an identical pension.

When the transfer is complete, employees should get an up-to-date written statement of employment, giving the name of the new employer and a statement that their terms and conditions haven’t changed. If their tax records are being updated, they will get a P45.

The new employer can’t make employees redundant just because they were transferred from another employer. However, the new employer can consult about redundancies before the transfer if the old employer agrees. If an employee is made redundant for an ‘economic, organisational or technical’ reason involving changes to the workforce, they may be entitled to a redundancy payment.

HR Wise provides an employee handbook and employment contracts (incorporating a statement of particulars). They are regularly updated by an industry expert, so you don’t have to worry about keeping on top of things. If you use our handbook and employment contracts, we help you navigate potential TUPE situations.

Please get in touch if you would like to enjoy affordable peace of mind.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.