Can an employer force a radical change to your shifts such as a switch from days to night shifts? Our guide will advise on the laws surrounding shift changes, and how to speak with your employer to navigate this delicate situation.
Being Asked to Change From Day Shift to Night Shift
Reader A.D has been asked to change from her regular day shift to a night shift and is anxious her employer can force this change. As a working mum, childcare is a barrier to nighttime shift patterns.
Q. I have been asked to work nights, I have no one to look after my son on some of the nights I am wanted to work. There is still a day shift running on the section that I am currently working on. What are my rights to stay on the day shift if my employer trys to force me to work nights?
A.D, 1 June 2020
The suggestion that an employer may force someone to work nights is certainly worrying. Employers who take this approach upset staff and damage their companies reputations.
Furthermore, its clear from the question that this employee cannot work nights. After all, on some occasions there’ll be no one at home to look after a child. There are 3 main things to be aware of when navigating this situation.
1. Can an Employer Force a Change to Night Shift?
The first point to make is that an employer cannot force someone to change shift patterns. This is unreasonable and if your work contract stipulates particular work hours your employer will need your agreement to change them. This will require a new work contract. Our guide to your rights when employers make changes to working hours has more information.
You should also be aware that all employees have the right to request flexible working.
There’s a potential problem in the way this situation may unfold, however.
If an employer tries to force a member of staff to work nights, and the member of staff refuses, such a confrontation is bad for everyone involved. The member of staff may win in the short-term; but in the medium to long-term, the employer may prove difficult over other issues such as granting time off.
2. Talking To Your Employer About Shift Changes
One way to avoid harmful confrontation is for both sides to talk to each other in a sensible way. More than likely, the employee will have to make the first move.
The best course of action is to speak to the appropriate manager. Explain why a change to the night shift is impractical. Most managers will respond positively.
If the manager isnt sympathetic, speak to the HR section. Again, explain the situation and ask to stay on the day shift. Make sure you are fully aware of your contract rights during your conversation. If you do not have a copy of your work contract, ask for a copy before you have your conversation. It may also help to talk to ACAS beforehand so you can get advice on how to approach the situation.
3. The Right to Request Flexible Working
If the HR section takes the managers side, or your company doesnt have an HR professional, then discuss flexible working.
All employees have a legal right to ask for flexible working. To make such a request within the law, an employee mustn’t be an Agency Worker. They must have worked for the company for 26 weeks or more; and mustn’t have made a similar request in the past year.
Employees must also give a reason for the request.
In this question, the employee is not asking to change hours as part of a flexible working arrangement but to stay on the day shift. Because the request is not to change, the employer may seize on this and still try to force the employee to work nights. If so, the employee needs to point out that once on the night shift, he or she will demand the legal right to Flexible Working. This will lead to a return to the day shift in order to care for the child.
Our guide to reading and understanding your contract of employment might be of help. If you understand your contract, you’ll feel more confident about whether your employer can force you to change shifts.