Changing shift patterns: your rights

Shift Work


Shift working has been increasing with the advent of extended hours of service seven days a week. Shift work can be a boon to parents, offering flexible working that fits around family life – if they can get the shifts they need.

But what if you sign up for a night shift to work avoid childcare costs and find yourself switched with little notice to the day shift, or vice versa? Can you refuse the changes because you can’t get childcare cover?

Check your contract

The important thing is to check your contract first. If it only sets out your minimum hours then employers can generally change the shift pattern, provided that the employee is still being asked to work their contracted number of hours. If it specifies certain hours then you would need to be consulted about and approve any change.

Make a flexible working request

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.  Anyone can now request flexible working to secure the hours they would like, although they can only make one request within any 12-month period and need to ensure that they have considered how this might affect the employer.

The employer can turn this request down for any of eight reasons, but must handle the request reasonably, for instance, giving a right of appeal. It is a good idea to look at the eight reasons and, if you think your employer could use one of them against you, to address any reasonable concerns they might have, for instance, about lack of cover.

Anti-discrimination rights

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 as it is assumed they have the main responsibility for caring for children.

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 show that it has a legitimate business aim in changing shift patterns – for instance, meeting customer demand better – and that this couldn’t be achieved in a less discriminatory way.

Negotiate a solution

On a practical level, a solution often comes down to negotiation between employer and employee, taking into account the needs of both and considering all the options available. As an employee, it is important to set out your issues and concerns, including whether the change you need is only temporary, to emphasise the benefits to your employer of your solution and to show you have taken into consideration any problems that your manager may have beforehand.

Comments [8]

  • Claire Belinda Radley says:

    I have worked mon-fri for 15 years our company was taken over and we were TUPE’d for 2 years. I was told I was being moved to a new role (stand alone post) then suddenly I am being forced into the most unfair shit pattern going
    What can I do

  • Claire says:

    I successfully applied for flexible hours contract before going back to work after having my second child, I’ve been working to my new contract for two years now and have recently been working under a new line manager who ignored my contract at first until I mentioned i was working too many hours so he went back to my contracted hours which I was happy with it but when I mentioned I was meant to have 2 in 4 weekends off (that is in my contract) he got quite aggressive about it saying basically he has to do a rota around me , he has to do spilts as I won’t come in early (I have to take my 5 year old to school) I have a contracted start and finish time, he says it needs to be more give and take with us I just don’t know how much more I can give! Whilst he’s making me feel like I don’t pull my weight he allows his deputy manager to finish early all the time and work around his golf matches …is this fair

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Hi, If your contract specifies these hours and patterns he cannot change them without consulting with you and getting your agreement, unless the contract specifies that they can be changed for some reason. Have you considered taking out a grievance or informally complaining about bullying behaviour towards you? Do you have an HR department? It is a good idea to keep a running note of instances of when he has done this and what he has said.

  • heather dus says:

    im a dental nurse, and have been doing 2 days a week, my daughter is 13 at home and has struggled with bullying since last year, my husband cant work as he’s too ill from anxiety disorder and mental health conditions, at the moment he is too ill to watch our daughter and now work are telling me I have to do certain days whether its possible for me or not. at them moment it isn’t, I cant leave my daughter with someone who isn’t well enough.
    my boss has said, these were his actual words, “I don’t ask, I tell you what to do and you do it” and at one point he told me I was “talking shit”. I cant do what all he says but I cant help out on some days but he says no you’re doing it all and if I don’t I could loose my job.
    is this legal?

    • Mandy Garner says:

      Hi Heather, What are your contracted hours and are they on specified days? Is your employer looking to change those days? If so that would represent a change to your terms and conditions if there is no clause in your contract enabling them to change your days for business reasons, etc. Please contact me on [email protected] with more details.

  • Simon Corbett says:

    Need to change from night shift to earliest with my daughter leaving home I have a disabled wife who cant be left on her own overnight at the moment I am a assistant chargehand told me there were no vacancies in department but can move me to other department on basic operative money which I can not afford to do need advice in a catch 22 situation

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