Can An Employer Reduce Your Hours at Work? Contract Rights Guide

If your employer has announced they intend to reduce your hours at work, you will be understandably concerned and wondering if they can legally do so.

The short answer is they can only reduce your hours if your employment contract allows it, and any changes to your contract must be negotiated and agreed between you and your employer.

Our guide looks at your contract rights under uk employment law and the processes that must be followed when changes are proposed.

We’ll also look at practical considerations during your discussions with your workplace.

Reduction in Working Hours & UK Employment Law – Is it Legal?

In recent years, many businesses in the UK have come under increased financial pressure. Many employers have taken to reducing overheads by cutting down employees’ work hours.

The first thing you need to do to understand your rights is to check your contract of employment. There may be a clause stating that working hours can be reduced according to business needs. This clause may be placed within the section dealing with your working hours.

However, even if the clause is in your contract it does not necessarily mean your employer can enforce it. If you have a set working pattern, and the clause isn’t used regularly, your employer may need to negotiate a new contract with you.

This article by Citation is written to guide employers through the process of reducing contracted hours. It’s easy to read, and will be helpful for you to understand your employer’s legal obligations.

ACAS can also offer individual support and advice if you contact them. You may find their guidance on changing an employment contract valuable.

Valid Reasons for Reduction in Working Hours

An employer cannot simply tell you that they are reducing your hours. There has to be a valid reason, and a proper process must be followed that abides by UK employment law.

A new contract must be negotiated and agreed to by the employee. There are some clear scenarios in which an employer can take steps to reduce their staff’s hours:

  • The business is under financial strain so a cut in hours is required to help them recover from this period.
  • There has been a dip in business or demand and the employer cannot justify the hours’ staff are doing.
  • Reduced hours will mean any affected employees will avoid redundancy.
  • There has been a change in the business structure. This could mean fewer people are needed all day, every day.
  • To reflect changes made to the duties and responsibilities of the staff.
  • The business itself might be changing its operating hours.
  • There might be a lack of work and the presence of staff isn’t justified.

Even with mitigating circumstances, any employer must approach this change carefully and lawfully. Failure to do so could result in employees taking legal action which can prove both costly and stressful.

See Also: Can my employer reduce my salary?

How Employment Contracts Can be Changed

Employment contracts are legally binding to all parties. That means, employers must understand how to approach any changes needed.

UK Employment laws must be kept under consideration any time you wish to make changes to an employee’s contract.

Here are the steps an employer should follow when they wish to reduce someone’s working hours:-

  1. Explain the situation to those affected. Big changes should never come completely out of the blue. Instead, an employer should let staff know as soon as possible.
  2. Outline the new arrangement. An outline should be provided on how the new hours will work, why they are taking these steps and how it will affect pay. It should be clearly explained what the new working hours will be and when they will commence.
  3. Follow up with a formal letter. Any verbal communication should then be followed by a formal letter of notification. The letter should include everything that has been discussed and when the new arrangement will begin. This should be done as soon as possible after the initial meeting.
  4. Draw up a new contract. A new contract should be drawn up with all the new arrangements added. To become legally binding, this should be signed by both parties.

If You Disagree With The Changes

If you can’t come to an agreement about the reduction in working hours, you can continue working under protest.

Effectively, this means you do not accept the change but will work until a compromise or solution is found. This should be done formally with a letter of protest.

You also have the option of saying from the beginning that you do not accept the new proposal. At this point, you might both agree that terminating the contract is the best way forward. Alternatively, you might be willing to negotiate a bit more.

Whichever of the above you choose to do, you need to make sure your objection to the changes in your contract is recorded. If you carry on working without recording a protest, you will be deemed to have accepted the changes.

If you feel your employer hasn’t taken the appropriate or legal steps, you could claim in a tribunal court. You may have grounds for proving there has been a breach of contract. If you reach this point, you should consult ACAS to discuss your options.

Can My Employer Reduce My Hours Without My Consent?

Employers cannot enforce a change in the form of a reduction of contracted work hours without your agreement.

However, some employers will attempt to force the changes through without negotiation. This comes at a risk of employees taking legal action.

You cannot be forced to sign a new contract if you do not accept the changes. This poses an insurance risk to the employer so they may have no choice but to terminate the contract. Again though, this has to be done following the correct legal procedure.

In the event there is a variation clause in your contract, then your employer must give proper notice of the changes to your working hours.

An employer might also attempt a “fire and rehire” tactic, where they let staff go and rehire them – requiring them to sign a contract that has the new work hours laid out. This can be a risky move, but it can be done legally.

BT successfully used a fire and rehire policy during an aggressive restructuring process.

It is worth bearing in mind that if an employer chooses to use the fire and rehire route, that proper redundancy processes must be followed.

If You Resign or Lose Your Job

You may decide to resign or face losing your job over a reduction in hours proposal. If this is the case then there are some factors you should consider.

If you feel your employer has breached the contract or brought through these changes unlawfully, then you can take them to a tribunal hearing. A contract is legally binding and must be followed and respected. Failure to do so can result in employers being sued.

Also, discrimination in the workplace is a huge deal and will be taken seriously if you feel this has occurred. If you feel this reduction in hours has been as a result of discrimination based on a protected characteristic, then you may have the right to pursue a claim.

You may also consider the possibility of claiming constructive dismissal. This is used in situations where you feel you have no choice but to resign.

Reduction in Hours as an Alternative to Redundancy

Redundancy risk is one of the main reasons employers need to reduce hours. They do not want to lay their staff off, particularly if things look set to improve over time.

Therefore, the alternative is to keep staff on but under reduced hours. As an employee, you need to consider if the fight is worth it, bearing in mind the company is clearly struggling.

There is always the option of agreeing to this in the short term but you would like a review every few months.

An employer will be keen to keep existing staff on so may well agree to regular reviews. Of course, the business being in trouble is a worry for everyone involved. You may decide to agree to the new hours but actively start seeking out new employment.

About Lay Offs & Short Time Working

Sometimes, employers will find it necessary to include a lay off and sort time working clause within employee contracts.

A lay off clause means that an employer can request you take the day off if there is no work available. Your contract should state whether this is unpaid or paid. Sometimes a reduced rate is given when someone takes a day off at the request of the employer.

Short time working is another term for having your contracted hours cut. This might be a temporary or permanent arrangement and again, should be included within the contract.

Post Covid, both these clauses have become common practice to help protect businesses recovering from financial losses.

Further Reading


Can my employer reduce my hours after maternity leave?

An employer can take the steps to reduce hours after maternity leave. However, this requires a new contract to which the employee must agree.

Can your employer reduce your pay?

A new contract would need to be drawn up to reduce an employee’s pay. This would then need to be agreed upon and signed by all parties. Employees have the right to refuse these new changes.

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