Cresswell v. Board of Inland Revenue

Cresswell v. Board of Inland Revenue

[1984] I.R.L.R. 190 Chancery Division (Walton J).


The plaintiffs were employed by the Inland Revenue as tax officers. The case arose as a result of computerisation of P.A.Y.E. The plaintiffs (who were members of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation) refused to operate the computers, and continued with manual operation, as before. The defendants responded by suspending them without pay until they were prepared to operate the new system. The plaintiffs sought a declaration that they were not bound to operate the new computers, and that the defendants were in breach of their employment contracts in requiring them to operate the new system, and in suspending them without pay.


It is an implied term of the employment contract that the employer has a unilateral right to alter the terms in the interests of technological change.

Walton J. (at 195, col.1):

... there can really be no doubt as to the fact that an employee is expected to adapt himself to new methods and techniques introduced in the course of his employment (cf. North Riding Garages Ltd. v. Butterwick [1967] 2 Q.B. 56 [but note that this case is actually on the definition of redundancy, and is not authority on the terms of an employment contract]). Of course, in a proper case the employer must provide any necessary training or re-training ... In an age when the computer has forced its way into the school room and where electronic games are played by school children in their own homes as a matter of everyday occurrence, it can hardly be considered that to ask an employee to acquire basic skills as to retrieving information from a computer or feeding such information into a computer is something in the slightest esoteric or, even nowadays, unusual.


1. In spite of this case, it is unlikely that the implied term will cover really radical changes which effectively alter the whole nature of the job. Walton J. observed, for example, that an employee originally engaged as a typist simpliciter would probably not be required, under his contract, to re-adapt as a word processor.

2. North Riding Garages Ltd. v. Butterwick adopts a similar definition of kind of work for redundancy purposes, but there is no necessary connection between that situation and the implication of terms in contract.

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