I have worked for 24 years for my employer. The last 13 years have been flexible working, but on a fixed shift pattern of 5pm to 3am averaging 30 hrs per week to cover childcare. I have never had to ring in for an emergency day off and have always been there during the busiest times. Last year there was a major change within the resource management side who changed many of the full-time workers’ shift patterns.
This has resulted in chaos; there are staff shortages for each shift, and loads of overtime being given & often forced. We still have the same number of staff, but the managers don’t appear to be managing. They have now said that my established shift doesn’t meet the work demand, which I dispute as they have recently changed some afternoon workers to my shift pattern to cover shortages. Can I tell them to leave me alone?
The initial step is to refer back to your contract to check if it includes wording to the effect that your employer has the right to change your shift pattern or hours of work.
If such a term is not included within your contract, your employer cannot unilaterally change the terms of your contract concerning your working hours without your consent. If they do, then they would be in breach and you would have a legitimate case to put to them that they are not contractually entitled to change your hours. If they push forward regardless of this, and you are forced to terminate your employment as a result, you may have grounds to pursue a claim for unfair constructive dismissal.
Your employer may be entitled to terminate your existing contractual arrangement by giving you the appropriate notice set out in your contract and offering you new employment on the new shift pattern. However, they would be expected to fully consult with you before doing this and you may still have grounds to pursue a claim for unfair dismissal, particularly if you can establish your employers have acted unreasonably.
Even if your written contract states that they have a right to change your shift pattern or working hours, the fact that you have worked fixed hours for a lengthy period of time would mean that you would be entitled to being consulted before any changes were imposed. Otherwise, your employers may be in breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence, which would again give you grounds to pursue a claim for unfair constructive dismissal.
As you have stated that your shift patterns have been agreed in order to suit your childcare responsibilities, if the new proposed hours have a detrimental impact on this, you may also have a claim for indirect sex discrimination unless your employer can objectively justify the changes.
Before you take any further steps, I would recommend that you seek initial legal advice where a more detailed discussion can take place.