Scottish clubs have been urged to reach amicable agreements with their players over wage cuts and pay deferrals during the shutdown – or risk suffering a public backlash and long-term reputational and commercial damage.

Hearts are currently negotiating with several members of their first team squad in an attempt to avert a financial meltdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

And many of their Ladbrokes Premiership rivals appear set to follow the Tynecastle club’s lead in the coming days as they face up to the prospect of going several months without any competitive football.

It emerged last week that a hitherto little-known clause in a standard SPFL contract makes it possible for clubs to suspend agreements with their players if the SFA suspend matches – as happened back on Friday, March 13.

Hearts owner Ann Budge, who has asked players and staff to agree to a 50 per cent pay cut, has revealed she could activate it at five o’clock tomorrow evening if her request is not adhered to.

PFA Scotland have responded to that possibility by writing to all 42 SPFL clubs and warning them that they “must not and should not be unilaterally imposing contractual changes such as wage cuts”.

Joan Cradden, a partner with Brodies Solicitors, believes that forcing through salary reductions and pay deferrals without player agreement in order to make short-term savings could have detrimental repercussions for employers in future.

Many major companies, including high street firms like Sports Direct and Weatherspoons, have been lambasted by the public for their response to the Covid-19 outbreak this month.

And Cradden feels that football clubs could receive the same negative publicity and be left counting the cost of their actions in the years to come if they go against their players’ wishes.

“This is one of the things that has become most obvious to us employment lawyers as we have been talking to employers over the last two weeks,” she said.

“You can see a difference between the employers whose immediate priority is community, their own employees and protecting the greater good and the businesses which have decided the bottom line is what is important.

“There is no doubt there is balance between those two things. In terms of employee engagement and employer reputation it is crazy for employers not to take that into account, even on a commercial basis.

“When employers start writing to their employees telling them what they are going to do, they are going to see those letters up on social media.”

Asked if there could be a backlash against clubs which impose salary reductions, Cradden added: “There could be. If employers are not communicating effectively with their employees it is going to count against them in the long-term.

“They have to keep talking to people. Even though they are in the middle of the really difficult decision-making process, they have to keep communicating and make clear, firm decisions as quickly as they possibly can.

“I can see a huge benefit in agreeing with people that they will put off payment or they will delay payment.”

Cradden, who anticipates that players could be free to leave and join other teams for nothing if clubs decide to suspend their contracts, believes invoking the clause could be a legal minefield.

“It is interesting that they (Hearts) are asking them (the players) to agree,” she said. “If you were very confident about your ability to enforce a variation clause then you wouldn’t look for agreement, you would just impose it.

“But, having aid that, it is just the right thing to do, to try and get people to agree, rather than impose it. I suppose they are hoping people will engage a community spirit, look to support their clubs and agree to do what is deemed necessary.

“There is a whole body of law about the use of variation clauses like the one being referred to. It is not straightforward.”