Can your employer force you to cover shifts?

I work on a part-time basis 22.5 hr week on Wednesday, Thursday and Fridays and have done for over three years. In my contract it states “if you work on a part-time basis you will be required to cover for periods, of holiday,sickness and absence……”  I work for a massive well known company in a lone working environment as does my colleague who works the Mondays and Tuesdays. During my employment, I have booked my holiday well in advance, ie December for the year following and encountered no issue with managers getting cover. They have asked me and my colleague to cover each other during our joint five-week holiday entitlement. However, we both have 9 year olds at home and we both take our holiday during the school holidays to assist with our childcare. My employer is now insisting we cover for each other despite the fact we have never done so in the past. I have always stated that I am unable to cover someone else’s holiday because this causes me childcare issues because my daughter is at home. (I am a single parent with sole custody). I have, though, said that during the 40 weeks when my daughter is at school if I am given adequate notice I would happily cover. I am just unable to cover the school holidays as it is impossible for me to organise extra cover. In addition as a part-time worker, surely this means we do not actually receive any holiday if we are made to cover someone else’s as the two would counteract each other? I have sought advice and been told I need to request flexible working, but I do not understand why as I don’t want flexible my working – my hours suit my needs and the company’s.
I just cannot work on extra days during school holidays. Can they enforce this? I have already been told by my manager that I have too and that flexible working will be refused as it will open the flood gates for everyone else.

From your email it would appear that you and your colleague share one full-time post as a job share. A job share is a variation of part-time work where two people effectively share the duties and responsibilities of one role (with the support of their employer). Job shares allow both sharers to have set hours (which affords the sharer the opportunity to make other arrangements e.g. for childcare) and the employer to have adequate cover for the position throughout the working week.

Your email noted that there is a term in your contract to provide cover for periods of holiday, sickness and absence, but that your employer has not relied on this wording previously. Whilst it is, of course, advantageous for an employer if the job sharers take annual leave at different times, you have not done this in the past.

You note in your email that you have previously confirmed to your employer that you may be able to assist during term times, but are unable to cover all of your colleague’s leave as an increase in the number of hours and days worked would mean organising and paying for further caring arrangements for your nine-year-old child.

In your email you note that it is likely that both you and your colleague will wish to take your annual leave during school holidays. The Working Time Regulations 1998 confirms that an employer can refuse to allow an employee to take holidays on specific dates and the employer can stipulate the days you must take your holiday. This gives the employer discretion as to when holiday may be taken throughout the year. You noted in your email that you have previously given lengthy notice prior to your requested annual leave (which would be adequate notice under the aforementioned Regulations) and that your employer had previously found effective cover.

In light of the above you should lodge a grievance, explaining to your employer in writing/email why you do not believe that your role requires you to be compelled to cover for your colleague and that in the past there has always been cover for both you and your colleague, despite neither of you covering for each other. Explain the issues that your employer’s request for cover would cause to you. Note that you have never had to do this previously.

In addition, you noted in your email that you work for a “massive well known” company. It may also be worth enquiring with the HR Department as to whether there is a policy in respect of part-time work/job shares that you can review. This may provide further guidance as to how the job share should operate in practice at the company.

If you would like some further advice either on the issues discussed above or on part-time workers’ rights then please do not hesitate to contact Tracey Guest on 0161 975 3823.

*Tracey Guest is head of employment and a partner at Slater Heelis in Manchester. She specialises in employment law and is also a working mum.

Comments [4]

  • Chris Jones says:

    My colleague has been off sick for three months now (not covid related)and i have to cover one of his weekend shifts.its affecting my work /lifebalance and lowered long do I legally have to cover for him?

  • michelle says:

    I was a shift supervisor at work but been demoted to team coach as apparently I have been signed off as supervisor without all my training but my manager is willing for me to do the supervisor job for 4 weeks while staffs on holiday is this right

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Without knowing the specifics of your situation eg if additional hours are required/if there are childcare implications etc and why your training was not continued, you can be asked to step up temporarily to cover holiday, but you could use this to negotiate further training.

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