What are my rights if my employer changes my shift pattern?

Karen Holden is founder of A City Law Firm. She gives advice on what you can do if your shift pattern is changed.

Time clock on desk


If your employer makes or wants to make shift pattern changes to you working hours, it is important that you first check your employment contract. If you do not have a copy, then you should ask for one and keep one for your records. Your employer cannot usually make a change to your employment contract unless agreed in writing with you. Therefore, if you are being asked to do something contrary to your employment contract, you are usually able to rely on its protection.

Your employer is required to give you reasonable notice of any changes to your working pattern, including cancelling shifts. If the notice is not reasonable, for example, if you are called in the morning saying you are not required to work that day, you are able to decline the reduction in your hours and should still be paid for your work. Please note that your contract may specify what timeframe is reasonable so please check your contract.

You should check your contract for the following:
1. Specified days of work. If your contract refers to specific days that you are meant to work, then you will not usually be required to work on other, non-specified days.
2. Hours of work. If there is a specific number of hours stated in your contract, then your employer must give you at least that number of hours. Please be aware that your employer only has to give you the number of hours specified in your contact and is not obliged to give you more. Likewise, you cannot be forced to work more hours than specified and should not be disciplined for refusing extra hours.
3. Specific shifts. Again, what specific times and days you must work will be specified in your contract. If your employer changes your shift times and patterns within the terms of the contract then you are obliged to work them. It is important to have a discussion with your employer if you are not happy with any changes made.
4. Working flexibly. There may be reference to this in your contract, but all employees have a legal right to request flexible working to accommodate other commitments that a worker may have. To exercise these rights, you must have been working for at least 26 weeks and not have made a flexible working request within the last 12 months. It is worth noting that your employer may refuse this request if it is not feasible. Your employer is required to take your request seriously and give serious consideration to it.

Breaches of employment contract

If your employer has breached your employment contract, it is important as a first step to reach out to them, via your manager, and have a civil conversation to see if the issue may be fixed. If you are still unsatisfied with the response then it would be wise to follow your employer’s complaints procedure, which can usually be found through your manager or HR team.

If you are still unhappy with the breach to your contract, then you are entitled to take the matter to the employment tribunal (within three months of the breach). You can do this yourself or seek legal representation or contact the Citizens Advice Bureau to make the process easier. If you are a member of a trade union, it would be prudent to speak to them and see what help they can offer.

*Please note that the above is intended as a high-level overview and does not constitute as legal advice whatsoever. If you are concerned about your rights, please reach out to the team and ACLF for a free initial consultation.

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