Change of hours: ask the expert

I have just returned to work following the birth of my son.  I am part of an admin team, three of whom provide reception duties.  While I was on maternity leave the opening hours of the organisation extended and reception required cover for a longer period of time.  I returned to work in my substantive post and previous hours.  I was asked whether I could provide cover for the later time which I refused as I want to spend more time in the evening with my baby and it is more convenient for my sister who looks after my son.  After trying to informally get cover my employer informed my team today that cover had to be provided and, although individual considerations would be taken into account, I would have to cover reception for one evening per week.  My normal time to leave is 4.00 pm and I will be required to stay until 5.15 pm with my start time being adjusted so there is no change to the number of hours I work.  The other two receptionists also have to cover for one evening per week and another team member who is not a receptionist but has these duties in her job description has also been told she has to cover.  I have been given a few days to make alternative suggestions, but a decision will be communicated to me on Friday with the cover arrangements and two weeks notice of the imposed change.  I am pregnant again, which my employer knows.  Can they vary my working hours?

Changing your hours without your consent is a fundamental breach of contract which would entitle you to resign with immediate effect and claim constructive unfair dismissal. As an alternative, businesses sometimes dismiss and then offer employees re-engagement on the new hours. You may have an unfair dismissal claim in this instance as well. However, where a business can show that the change is necessary to run the business and show that they have consulted fully with staff, then they may have a defence to any claim of unfair dismissal, especially where lots of other employees have agreed to the change. You should therefore take further legal advice before resigning or refusing an offer of re-engagement on the new hours as your claim on unfair dismissal may be weak.

The fact that you are pregnant would only affect this situation if the later finish would cause a risk to your health. However, a 5.15pm finish time is unlikely to do this. You also need to bear in mind that as you are pregnant, you will soon be on maternity leave again. If you leave your job you risk losing your statutory maternity pay (depending on how pregnant you are when you choose to resign/refuse an offer of re-engagement). If your employer insists you change your hours, then it may be best to accept this for now (making it clear that you are working the new hours under duress) and then on your return from maternity leave you could submit a flexible working request to ask for a change in your hours in order to care for your children. This request could only be refused on certain limited business grounds.

At this stage you should explain to your employer why the later finish causes issues with your childcare arrangements and see if you can persuade your employer to leave your hours as they are. If they insist you change your hours, then your options are as above.


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