Changing shift patterns – what are your rights?

Louise Paull of Lawbite explains employment rights for shift workers.

As clients and customers come to expect a round the clock service, shift working is increasing. For many employees, shift work is a choice that offers flexibility, freedom and opportunity to balance family and home.

Evidence shows that this can foster greater loyalty and retention amongst staff, which reduces an employer’s costs, while at the same time allowing its business to meet customer service expectations at the busiest times of day (or night). But as a business develops and changes, employers may need to vary shift patterns. These variations may not work for all employees, particularly as their circumstances change with the arrival of children and their differing needs as they progress through school.

Can an employer change shift patterns and can the employee refuse the changes because of their childcare responsibilities? In the range of legal support LawBite provides small business owners shift working is emerging as a hot topic. Some of the most common areas to consider are covered below.

Employees Rights

Employees have two sets of rights: their contractual rights as set out in their contract of employment and their statutory rights. Any request by an employer to change shift patterns will in part depend on whether an employee’s contract allows the change.

If the contract set out the minimum number of hours that the employee is required to work only, as is often the case in shift workers’ contracts, generally employers can change shift patterns, provided that the employee is still being asked to work their contracted number of hours.

In addition, shift workers, like other employees, are protected by statutory rights. Amongst other things, these give employees the right to request a change to their working arrangements, including any shift patterns, to allow them to work in a way that better suits their lifestyle.

Since 30 June 2014, this right is not limited just to those who have childcare and other carer responsibilities, but applies to all employees. It is a right to request flexible working, not to work flexibly, but only one request can be made in a 12-month period, so it may not be appropriate if the change an employee needs is temporary only.

Employers are required to handle a request in a reasonable manner, which includes considering the request properly and refusing it only for certain business reasons. These include a detrimental impact on quality and performance, and the ability to meet customer demand, as well as insufficient work for the periods the employee proposes to work.

Even if the employer can satisfy one of those business reasons and properly refuse a request to change shift patterns or to not work new shift patterns, working mothers are protected by anti-discrimination legislation.

Discrimination

As women are generally the main childcarers in a family, any decision to refuse a flexible working request from a woman with childcare responsibilities may be indirect discrimination. This occurs when an employer implements a working practice, such as a change to shift patterns, which has a detrimental impact on a particular woman and women in general as the main carers.

In these circumstances, the employer has to be able to objectively justify its practice by showing that it has a legitimate business aim and that it couldn’t achieve its aim in a less discriminatory way.

With a change to shift patterns, aims such as to better meet customer demand are likely to be legitimate, so the key question will be, was there a better way of achieving that aim? Does the employee have to work that particular shift pattern to achieve the business aim?

The employer needs to consider, and have evidence to justify, its need to change shift patterns in relation to that employee. If there is a less discriminatory way of achieving the employer’s aim, any change in shift pattern is likely to be indirect sex discrimination.

On a practical level, there is often a solution that works for both employer and employee if the issue is discussed informally. As an employer, consider why you need to change the shift patterns and be able to justify that decision with evidence.

Have you considered all the options? Is there another way of achieving the same aim? As an employee, speak to your manager: set out your issues and concerns, including whether the change you need is only temporary; emphasise the benefits to your employer of your solution and consider any problems that your manager may have beforehand.

Information correct as of August 2017

*Louise Paull, a working mum herself, is one of a number of experienced solicitors providing simple, affordable, high quality legal services through LawBite. The company supports flexible working and offers rates which are typically 50% below traditional alternatives. For a free 15 minute no obligation consultation call 020 7148 1066 e-mail admin@lawbite.co.uk or click here.




Comments [46]

  • Tracey says:

    Hi I have a 33 hour contract to work night shift my rota has been out a month in advance, the days I am off I will make arrangements unfortunately my manager has yet again changed my rota to suit the needs of a colleague, I have a upcoming family reunion but I have been told that I have to work because I have been given plenty of notice what can I do

  • John says:

    Hi i used to work 10pm to 6am but was swapped with another lad to 2pm to 10pm shift.im currently working this shift over 2year but know the lad i was swapped with is complaining to the supervisor that he should be on my shift because thats the shift he started on.have i any rights if they look to move me back to nightshift?

    • Mandy Garner

      Mandy Garner says:

      Hi, Can you write in to mandy@workingmums.co.uk with more details of what your contract specifies. For instance, does it state your hours and does it state that these can be changed for business reasons? If it doesn’t say anything about changing your hours and you have been doing the new hours for over two years, you could argue that this has become your contractual hours through custom and practice, but it would depend on what your contract says.

  • zaheer says:

    Hi, I am working with a company which has three shift pattern, Morning, Twilight and late night. I had a contract for the twilight shift. Right now the situation is as morning shift worker has resigned and late night worker been sacked due to undisciplined activities and taking drugs during his shift. Its only me left for twilight shift which starts from 1800 hrs to 0200 hrs. My manager has requested me to cover some shifts for the morning and i honored his request and covered for almost 7 weeks expecting that company will recruit some one for morning shift. The company never advertised these two vacant slots for new recruitment.

    Now once again i been forced today to start from 1600 hrs till midnight. I had refused as if I start at 1600 hrs, I don’t left any time for my other activities. I cannot afford to live on only one job so i need to do more to pay my all bills and other expenses. The manger has threatened me for 28 days notice for removal. Yet it is verbal and i don’t know any possibilities.

    Question please as I refused to change my contracted hours, can my manger take disciplinary action for termination of contract or not. Please advise me the best possible solution. regards

  • Stacey says:

    Can somebody please help. I work in a nursery (40hours a week) and have three children of my own. My old manager who is now deputy always understood that during term time I would need a 9am till 6pm shift to help with school drop offs, although this wasn’t written down. Now a new manager is refusing me a set 9-6 shift which means I can no longer drop my eldest child off at secondary school which is a fair way away. Do I have a leg to stand on? I have agreed to different shifts during school holidays and haven’t once grumbled about them, but no compromises are being offered at all.

    • Mandy Garner

      Mandy Garner says:

      Hi Stacey,
      Could you send more information to mandy@workingmums.co.uk – eg how long have you worked the 9-6pm shift? What does it say in your contract about your shift pattern – is it a set time or does it say the pattern can be subject to change? When you agreed to the different shifts, was it specified that it was only for the holidays?

  • steve says:

    I am currently on a flexible agreement which was put in place following the passing of my late wife. I am finding this pattern financially difficult and wish to be placed back onto my old shift pattern which I should now be able to cope with. Could anyone advise if I am able to do this or do I need to wait the full 12 month period out? thanks.

    • Mandy Garner

      Mandy Garner says:

      Hi Steve,
      If you changed your working pattern as a result of a formal flexible working agreement that would represent a permanent change to your terms and conditions unless you agreed to a set time period. You can only apply for flexible working once in any 12-month period, but you may be able to work out something informally with your employer.

  • Gwen murphy says:

    Rotas have changed sometimes a 7.3p start on a sunday.. Unfortately i can.t make on a sunday at 7.30 as my bus dosen.t start until 8.my manager has given 3 opitions try to get in for 7.30 which means walking 5 mile. Apply for a flexi working contract to work late on a sunday or move. What are my rights igwen

  • Jacqueline says:

    Hi I’ve worked part time for a company for 8 years and worked the same days and hours 9.30am till 1.30pm over a 4 day period each week I’ve never worked a Saturday or Sunday and also got a Monday off one week then a Friday off the next I had to go on the sick last year due to having to have a hysterectomy and while I was off we changed managers the new manager started a new temp girl and when I came back to work she has changed my hours to 10.30am till 2.30pm and then gave the new girl my hours she’s also changed my days off I now have to work a Saturday and the new girl gets a Saturday and Sunday off and now she’s saying she’s changing my shift again and she’s putting me on the afternoon shift she said that I need to compansate for the new girl and work around her because she is a single parent with 2 young children and that my son is 14 now that i should be able to leave him in the house on his own but I too am a single parent and although my son is 14 he gets realy frightend being in the house alone there’s only ever been just me and my son we don’t have any family around to watch out for him I’m realy worried leaving him on his own is my manager aloud to do this as I feel like I’m being replaced and that she’s trying to push me out of my job any advice would be much appreciated thanx in advance

    • Mandy Garner

      Mandy Garner says:

      Hi Jacqueline,
      Were your hours agreed in your contract? Even if not, you have an argument that through custom and practice these are your hours. To change them your employer would need to consult you and gain your agreement. Did they do this? – see https://www.gov.uk/your-employment-contract-how-it-can-be-changed/dealing-with-problems. When did you come back to work because any legal action would need to be taken without three months.

      • Jacqueine says:

        Hi mandy thanx for your reply my contract says Im contracted to work 16 hours but not what hours I’ve been working for 8 and a half year iwent back to work March 2017 but before I went back to work I spoke to her and she asked me if I was flexible I told her I wasn’t because of a second job I have, I couldn’t start before 9.30am and can’t work after 2.30pm as my second job I work with 6 autistic children with high to severe autism and learning difficulties she asked if I could work on a Saturday which I have never done before but I told her I could and that I wasn’t bothered which days I worked as long as I got them hours so I could still do my second job this is why I took on the second job as the hours I have been doing runs perfect along side each other her reply was that’s great I love people who can work a Saturday (nobody wants to work a Saturday) she said we’ll if you work a Saturday I will be OK with the hours you want so have been doing this since I went back last March now she’s going back on her word and telling me I need to be flexible and I need to do afternoons up until 8pm and I need to compensate for the new girl who she’s gave my hours to as she has 2 kids can she do this as it just seems so wrong I’d be grateful for any advice on this please thanx in advance

  • gregoery says:

    im working on the mine night shift lmyesterday 5 pm they told me i must work today day shift is it alowed in that short notice

  • helen shiels says:

    Hi, hoping someone can help. I work 3 nights in a row and have been told i have to attend training on the days im due to work the night shift. Am i within my right to refuse? We have been told if night staff dont attend then we have to go to the training provider and pay for the course ourselves, can they do this? Many thanks.

  • Michael says:

    Hi. For 9 months I am working on a shifts one week 6-2 and next 2-10. My department is made of two different section let’s call it “A” and “B”. On “A” there is about 60 people working on 3 shifts pattern and “B” are working in 5. 1 guy stayed on “normal” pattern what is 7.30-4.30 mon-fri and 7.30-12.30 on Fridays.
    They have set up brake time at 12 for normal shifts. 6-2 workers got it at 10 o’clock. But we had an agreement, as some people on other departments, to had a brake at 12 o’clock. Now because someone from section “A” went to a food van at 9 and did’nt hit the target they forced us to got a linch brake at 9 withouth sensible reason. When we asked why they said it’s company policy, so when we asked about other departments they still have brake at 10 or 12, we have been told that we are different and have to go at 9. Is that right? I feel descriminated, because I am working in the same company. There is no official note, just because someone went to a food van.

    • Mandy Garner

      Mandy Garner says:

      Hi, there is no legal entitlement to a lunch break, but there is a right to a rest period of up to 20 minutes depending on hours worked – see http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4282. Your issue seems to be around your employer changing the time of the rest period. This will therefore be about negotiating with your manager rather than an employment law issue, putting it to them that the change is not in the interests of the business, given eg that it will mean your rest period occurs near the beginning of your shift.

  • Kim says:

    Ive worked mainly nights for 35 yrs with a 2 week rotation onto days in a year, this has suited me well as I don’t sleep well at night, and I have stayed fit and well with a zero sick record, now there is talk of my rotating onto days for months not the 2 weeks, and into another area not the inpatient facility I am used too. My contract in 2003 was for nearly exclusive nights with some rotation to days on the inpatient facility, I have been TUPE x 2 and each time they honoured my exisiting contract, terms and conditions, has anyone else had the same or similar problem ?

  • mark falconer says:

    Hi. My current shift pattern is 7 strait nightshifts then 3 days off followed by 7 strait backshifts then two days of 3 day shifts a day off then another three one day off then back to the nightshifts is this legal? All shifts are 8 hour shifts, thanks

  • Robert gould says:

    Hi I have worked for a company for 8yrs now my team leader told me I have to work 10hr as it’s a shift change but is it a shift change if not all factory workers are doing it or is it over time as I have been doing it for the best part of 12 weeks now and they say I have to do it how can it be called a shift if the whole shift aren’t doing my shift is 8hr at other times thank any info would be good

    • Mandy Garner

      Mandy Garner says:

      Hi,
      Could you supply more information? What does your contract say about shift changes? Is it only you who is subject to this shift change? What is the rationale behind it?

      • Robert says:

        Basically my contract says I have to do a reasonable amount of overtime and thay can change my shift when required i was asked to work over the other day bear in mind I had done overtime for the best part of 10 weeks I told my team leader I needed a rest he sead I had to do it as it was a shift change but only 6 people out of the 25 people on my shift are working over I was under the impression that a shift change is the whole shift can I refuse to do it or do I have to work over thank you

  • Ashley Stevenson says:

    I have been working for 4 years in my company, the first year as a team leader and te last 3 as a shift manager. When I got promoted to shift manager, I signed my contract including a flexible working clause (contract states flexible working can be seen in company handbook – I have never seen nor can I find a company handbook). However, since this promotion, I have predominantly been working mon – fri 8-4 with the odd holiday cover being done one a 6:30 / 2:30 2:30/22:30 basis. I’m now on maternity and since being off a new line manager has invoked a 3 on 3 off 12 hour shift structure, days then nights. I have submitted a flexible working request to do mon – fri 9-5 with no reduction in contracted hours which is in the process of being rejected. I now also have legal responsibility for my step son as well as my baby. Whilst being off, some members of the department have been given ‘projects’ to complete on a mon – fri basis as well as some in the new shift pattern. Other colleagues have made local agreements not to work night shifts. Can this night shift clause be invoked for me upon my return? If so, what impact would parental leave have should I go down that route?

  • brenda noller says:

    we work a shift pattern of 08.00 – 17.00 which includes weekends, we have been told that the company is going to change our pattern on a rotation basis so we will be working staggered hours 06.00 – 15.00, 07.00-16.00 and 08.00-17.00. Can they do that?

    • Mandy Garner

      Mandy Garner says:

      Hi Brenda,
      The article you have commented on outlines your rights and it will depend on what is specified in your contract. Are your shifts subject to changes for business reasons, etc? You will need to look carefully at the wording. How long have you worked the shift you are currently on? Are you a member of a union – if so, contact your union rep.

  • Paul Baartman says:

    How many notice days should the company give me to be on a shift structure as I I’m working permanently day shift.

  • steve says:

    I worked in a day centre for two years Monday to Friday 8.30am to 4.00 pm but there changed our time 8.30am to 4.30 pm started to till us we have got to work a weekend but I take the job because there was no weekend work because it was Monday to Friday work and work 8 hours without a break were do we stand

  • dawn says:

    I’ve worked for the same company over 20years the last 12 on 12hour night shifts now a new manager has taken over and has stated I have to do a month of days per year do I have any legal rights to refuse.

  • tanyia shaw says:

    I have worked for my company for 14 years 9 of those permanant night shift. We used to get 2 days training during the day. They have now changed and decided we need training every 8 weeks during the day. I had to go off work with stress due to this as i have childcare issues and could not do training every 8 weeks and had managers making comments ” my chiice to have kids” maybe you shldnt work if you have kids. I had put a groevamce against that manager and won. My problem now is ive been off for 5 months as its taken them this long to sort out issue they have now started training on night, but say i need to so 2 weeks of day training 8-4 5 on 2 off as im out of process with training and whole induction had to be done again.

  • Anonymous says:

    ive worked for my company 28 years part time 3 days a week plus aocasional sundays i was asked to be contracted on a sunday and give my friday up which i did now they have told me they want to split my thursday shift which is seven and a half hours and do three and three quaters on a friday night and saturday on a rolling rota five until nine evenibgs where do i stand i got to visit my elderly mother on a saturday thats the only change i can

    Editor: What does your contract say about changing your shift pattern?

  • Anonymous says:

    ive worked for my company 28 years part time 3 days a week plus aocasional sundays i was asked to be contracted on a sunday and give my friday up which i did now they have told me they want to split my thursday shift which is seven and a half hours and do three and three quaters on a friday night and saturday on a rolling rota five until nine evenibgs where do i stand i got to visit my elderly mother on a saturday thats the only change i can

    Editor: What does your contract say about changing your shift pattern?

  • Anonymous says:

    I have worked for my company for a little over 2 years. Firstly as a warehouse supervisor(approx 14months) and my contract stated rotating shift 0600-1400, 1400-2200 and 2200-0600. We never rotated onto nights instead only doing the first 2 shifts due to business request. I then got a promotion around 11-12 months ago however I never got a new written contract. Around this time I was asked to do a perm 0730-1530 shift which I have been doing for around 10-11months. I handed my notice in on 24/12 with final leaving date of 30/01. They have requested yesterday(07/01) that I now do a 0830-1700 shift for my remaining time. Not only is this an increase in hours but I have not had any significant notice. I do not have childcare issues as such and could, at my own cost, sort these for the few days I would need to. I do not, however, feel that this is justifiable for business needs as we are quiet now and at our peak a move like this was not requested. It is in my contract that they can change my hours, however it does state for business needs such as emergency production. What is the minimum notice period they should give me for a shift change request? Could they insist that I revert back to rotating 0600-1400 1400-2200 for the last few weeks as this is the only contract I have?

    Editor: Louise Paull says: When you were asked to change to a permanent 0730-1530 shift, unless anything else was agreed at the time, it sounds like it was a change to your contracted hours even though you were not given a new written contract. If your employer wants to change your hours (including asking you to work your original shift pattern), you would need to agree to the change. If you don’t agree to the change, your employer would need to formally consult with you to get your agreement. If you don’t agree, your employer can end your employment by giving you the notice in your contract, but this is all likely to take longer than the remaining weeks you have given that you have resigned and your employment is ending at the end of January.

  • Anonymous says:

    I have worked for my company for a little over 2 years. Firstly as a warehouse supervisor(approx 14months) and my contract stated rotating shift 0600-1400, 1400-2200 and 2200-0600. We never rotated onto nights instead only doing the first 2 shifts due to business request. I then got a promotion around 11-12 months ago however I never got a new written contract. Around this time I was asked to do a perm 0730-1530 shift which I have been doing for around 10-11months. I handed my notice in on 24/12 with final leaving date of 30/01. They have requested yesterday(07/01) that I now do a 0830-1700 shift for my remaining time. Not only is this an increase in hours but I have not had any significant notice. I do not have childcare issues as such and could, at my own cost, sort these for the few days I would need to. I do not, however, feel that this is justifiable for business needs as we are quiet now and at our peak a move like this was not requested. It is in my contract that they can change my hours, however it does state for business needs such as emergency production. What is the minimum notice period they should give me for a shift change request? Could they insist that I revert back to rotating 0600-1400 1400-2200 for the last few weeks as this is the only contract I have?

    Editor: Louise Paull says: When you were asked to change to a permanent 0730-1530 shift, unless anything else was agreed at the time, it sounds like it was a change to your contracted hours even though you were not given a new written contract. If your employer wants to change your hours (including asking you to work your original shift pattern), you would need to agree to the change. If you don’t agree to the change, your employer would need to formally consult with you to get your agreement. If you don’t agree, your employer can end your employment by giving you the notice in your contract, but this is all likely to take longer than the remaining weeks you have given that you have resigned and your employment is ending at the end of January.

  • Anonymous says:

    I have been on maternity for 52 weeks and am due to return to work in 2 weeks.I submitted a flexible working request to my employer to change from mon-fri 10-6 to tues, wed, thurs 8-4.my work have rejected this on business needs and advised they need monday and friday worked and the request for 1 late night per week and 1 saturday in 4.My department got restructured into other areas when I finished so technically I wasnt in a specific role so no lose to anyone.Do you think I have the right to appeal the decision.A colleague in my dept returned from maternity in june and was given the hours wed-fri 8-4 with no requirement for evenings or saturdays although she done them before.

    Editor: A request can only be turned down for one of eight reasons and your employer must show that they have given due consideration to your request – https://www.workingmums.co.uk/working-mums-magazine/hot-topics/7890872/extending-flexible-working.thtml. If you feel that is not the case, you can appeal. It is hard to tell, based on what you say, whether this is the case. Did your colleague return before the restructure, for instance? Is there any way you can reach a compromise which meets your employer's business needs and gives you some flexibility?

  • Anonymous says:

    I have been on maternity for 52 weeks and am due to return to work in 2 weeks.I submitted a flexible working request to my employer to change from mon-fri 10-6 to tues, wed, thurs 8-4.my work have rejected this on business needs and advised they need monday and friday worked and the request for 1 late night per week and 1 saturday in 4.My department got restructured into other areas when I finished so technically I wasnt in a specific role so no lose to anyone.Do you think I have the right to appeal the decision.A colleague in my dept returned from maternity in june and was given the hours wed-fri 8-4 with no requirement for evenings or saturdays although she done them before.

    Editor: A request can only be turned down for one of eight reasons and your employer must show that they have given due consideration to your request – https://www.workingmums.co.uk/working-mums-magazine/hot-topics/7890872/extending-flexible-working.thtml. If you feel that is not the case, you can appeal. It is hard to tell, based on what you say, whether this is the case. Did your colleague return before the restructure, for instance? Is there any way you can reach a compromise which meets your employer's business needs and gives you some flexibility?


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