When Can An Employer Change Your Working Hours? UK Contract Law & Rights

It can be very stressful when your employer changes your working hours. You might be wondering if you have to work more than your contracted hours? Perhaps you are worried about changes to start and finish times, or working days?

pencil and notepad, can my employer change my working hours?

Our Guide to the law around contracted working hours, and your rights as an employee in the UK will help you negotiate this situation with your employer.

What Are Your Rights When Working Hours Are Changed?

When confronted with a change to working hours, many employees want to know if their employer or manager is allowed to make the changes to their work schedule. There are a number of things to look at when you find yourself in this situation.

The first thing you need to do is:-

Check Your Contract For Working Hours & Days

For any issue regarding your employment, it is really important to look at your contract. If you are unhappy with a proposed change to your rota, it’s important to check what was said in your work contract when you started your job.

  • You should have been provided with a copy of your contract at the point when you started your job.
  • If you were not provided with a copy, ask for one.
  • If you have lost your copy, you are still entitled to see your contract. Your employer should hold one in your employee file.
  • If the contract refers to any other procedures (such as disciplinary procedures) or terms and conditions of employment, this forms part of your contract. You are entitled to see these documents too.
  • Your contract may state what days and times you and your employer agreed that you would work. If this is the case, your employer must agree a new work contract with you.

Understand Your Contract – Fixed Days vs Shift Work

The main difference between fixed day and shift work is that if you have fixed days, your contract will specify what days and times you are to work. It may also tell you how long you are allowed to take for your lunch break.

If you work shifts where your employer puts up a rota to tell you when you are working, your hours or days of work are usually not specified in your contract.

Changes to Working Hours – Case Studies

There are a number of ways in which your employer or manager might ask you to make changes to your working hours. Each situation has different laws and rights which you need to be aware of when discussing with your workplace. We’ve created some mini case studies based on common reader’s questions.

Case Study – My Employer Wants Me to Work More than My Contracted Hours & Weekends

I have a contract for 21 hours and my employer has just told us we are having a delivery every day Mon-Sunday for xmas. They have said if we don’t work these days we will be disciplined.

I work Monday to Friday and they have told us we have to work Saturday and Sunday night. If we have a contract of 21 hours do we have to work over our contract hours? I have 3 young children. I can’t get childcare and I am worried I might lose my job because I’m unable to do the extra hours.

Sarah M, via email.

Your rights in this situation are varied. There are changes your employer can legally make within acceptable limits.

  • You cannot be forced to work over the number of hours in your contract and may legally refuse to do so.
  • If you do not work the full number of hours stated in your contract without good reason then your employer may discipline you.
  • If you object to the number of hours you have been allocated, it is always best to speak to your employer as soon as possible.
  • You can’t work Mon-Fri and then say you have done your hours so you are not working at the weekend. Your employer may choose to reduce your hours during the week, and allocate extra hours on weekends.
  • You have the right to request flexible working hours so long as you have worked with your employer for more than 26 weeks.

Employer Making Changes to The Shifts You Work

There are many scenarios under which you might have changes made to the shifts you’re being asked to work. Here are 3 common examples based on reader’s questions and an overview of the law and rights at play in each scenario.

Case Study 1 – My Employer is Changing My Rota From Dayshift to Nightshift

I’ve been working for a company for 11 years since it started. I have been working day shifts because they told me that the night shift is too risky for ladies.

Now they said I must work the night shift without any reason or agreement. I haven’t worked a night shift before and I have two children who are 5 & 9. My husband works nights so cannot look after them.

  • What times and days you have to work will depend on your contract.
  • If your contract states that you are available to work any time, unfortunately you can be called upon to work on different days or hours than your usual work pattern.
  • If your availability has changed, you need to discuss this with your employer. A new contract may need to be signed with this change reflected.

Case Study 2 – My New Working Hours Mean I Can’t Get To Work On Time

I have been working late afternoons and evenings into the night due to the nature of my work. The place I work has very bad public transport connections and absolutely no public transport after my work finishes.

Now my employer has asked me to come in early one day a week because it would suit them better. This would be really difficult for me due to transport problems. Can my employer force me to change my hours?Can they give me a warning or fire me if I can’t accommodate them?

  • If your contract limits your working hours or days i.e from 9am to 5pm, your employer can request that you change these hours.
  • Should you be unable to change your working hours, your employer cannot force you to do so.
  • If your contract does not specify your working hours, then unfortunately your employer can make these changes.
  • It is always worth discussing any requested changes with your employer. You may be able to agree a compromise that suits you both better. It’s not in the interests of either party to create a situation where an employee will struggle to get to work.

Case Study 3 – My Employer Has Added Nights to My Rota & I Have Childcare Issues

I work for a care company. I work 6 days and 1 evening, and I have 2 children under the age of 16. Today I was told that next week and future weeks I will be doing 4 days and 2 nights. However, nobody else has had this text.
Can my manager do this? Really worry as I have nobody to watch my kids at nights.

  • Clearly child care is a major concern in relation to working hours for many workers.
  • If you have any concerns this should be discussed with your employer. It may be that there is another employee who is more able to work evenings and nights.
  • As above, if your contract states that you can work these times, your employer can rota you accordingly.
  • You have the right to request flexible working in regard to childcare issues.

Requesting Flexible Working

If your workplace is changing your hours to a rota that causes problems, you can request your needs be met. All workers have the right to request flexible working to accommodate other commitments.

To have the right to request flexible working you must:-

  • a) have worked for the company for at least 26 weeks.
  • b) not have made a flexible working request already in the last 12 months.

Be aware that your employer does not have to agree to this. They must give your request serious consideration and give you reasons in writing for any request being denied. In some businesses, flexible working may not be feasable. Try to be reasonable and try to agree times that suit both you and your employer.

Note the flexible working policy is extended to all workers and not just carers of children.

Notice of Working Hours and Shift Changes

Your employer must give you reasonable notice of any changes to your working hours, such as cancelling your shifts. They may request last minute changes, such as ringing you that morning to say that they do not require you to work.

You can choose to agree to this change. However, if you are not given reasonable notice of your shift being cancelled or shortened, you can refuse this reduction in your hours.

What is Reasonable Notice of Shift Changes?

How much notice is “reasonable”? There is no law simply defining reasonable. However your employment contract may state this. In most cases, a minimum of 12 hours notice would be expected as reasonable notice to cancel a shift. It may be reasonable to have more notice of a requirement to work rather than a shift being cancelled.

Case Study:-

My employer normally gives out the next week rota normally on the Thursday. It seems to be getting later and later. It is now Friday and we still haven’t had the rota for next week. Can they do that?

It is often a problem for those who rely on a rota for their working days or hours that the rota is not put up until near the end of the week before. This then gives you only a few days notice of any early-week shift.

Unfortunately, unless specified in your contract, the only guide is what is “reasonable”. If this causes you problems however, ask your employer about this. Often the rota will be in draft form “subject to minor alterations” many weeks in advance. If you will not be in work on days to know when you are working, you can also always ring up to ask.

Obviously if rotas are put up last minute across several weeks, you may need to speak to your employer. However if it is a one-off and only a day later, do be reasonable. Has your manager been away ill or had another reason to not be able to put up the rota as early as normal that week? If the late notice causes you substantial problems, communicate with your Manager.

What to Do If Your Employer is in Breach of Contract

If your employer is in breach of your employment contract (e.g. not giving you your amount of contracted hours), what can you do?

  • The first step is always to talk to your employer. It may be a simple mistake which can easily be rectified by amending the rota.
  • If you are unhappy with your manager’s response to your complaint, follow your company’s complaints procedure. This often requires you to forward your complaint to a more senior manager.
  • If you do not know your employer’s complaints procedure, ask to see a copy of it. If your company has an HR Department, they may also be able to provide you with guidance on the procedures. You are often entitled to have a supporter present, such as another employee, which can be reassuring at any meeting.
  • It is always best to try to resolve matters “in house” with your employer. If you are not able to do so, you can take your employer to an Employment Tribunal. Be aware that whilst you can’t be fired for doing so, this may make for an awkward working environment if you are still employed at the firm.

If your employer is proposing changes to your contract and you don’t agree, read our guide to Objecting to Changes in your Employment Contract.

Employment Tribunals

  • An employment tribunal is an independent body that will assess your complaint and may make your employer pay you compensation if they think your rights have been breached.
  • You usually have to apply to the employment tribunal within 3 months of the incident you are complaining about arising (e.g. 3 months after you were unfairly fired).
  • To refer a matter to an employment tribunal, you must download and fill in a form which can be found at www.justice.gov.uk. There are also guidance notes online to assist you with filling in your application. The form can be filled in and submitted online, or printed and returned by post to your local employment tribunal office.
  • If you want help in referring your complaint to an employment tribunal, you can contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau who will provide you with free advice. If you are a member of a trade union, they may also be able to assist you.

Our detailed guide will help you find out more on what an employment tribunal is, and what will happen during the process.

Zero Hours Contracts

If you are on a zero hours contract, much of the above may not apply to your circumstances. We have a guide on Zero Hours Contracts here, which we hope you will find useful.

14 thoughts on “When Can An Employer Change Your Working Hours? UK Contract Law & Rights

  1. Abby S says:

    This is a good article. But what is the law around the number of days some is contracted to? And what can some do if the days are reduced without consent and prior warning even if its temporary? Example, my contract states I am to work 5 days out of 7. But on my rota I have been dropped to 4 and 3 days without notice, whilst this isn’t all the time it is becoming more frequent. I work in retail and I appreciate sales can drop but surely, the manager must adhere to what’s in my contract? Or am I wrong?

    • Safe Workers says:

      Hi Abby – this is not legal advice, for info only! A reduction in working hours should not take place without discussion / negotiation with the employee. It’s a good idea to raise this issue with your manager as soon as possible.

  2. Dave says:

    Great article, but unfortunately still didin’t answer my questions… I’m working as a waiter and the last four weeks (just came back after full furlough) i worked on average 45h per week but this and next week i’m allocated with only 30h (that is my contracted hours) can the employer do that? shouldn’t they count the average from the past? It just made my earnings drops significantly.

  3. Conner says:

    My employer has decided to change my working hours which is 9-5 and is now trying to make me leave my house at 4:30 in the morning to be in London. I did not agree to this and nowhere in my contract does it say that. Just want to know where I stand really as I have a 1 year old daughter and I don’t want to be waking her up every morning ing at half 4

  4. Robert Shearer says:

    I have worked for my company for 10 years and my contract is for 16 hours per week. 5 years ago I had a different roll and have been working 20 hours per week. My manager never changed my contract and my rota for next week is 16 hours. Is this legal?

  5. Maxine Radford says:

    My contracted hours have increased but I haven’t been given a new contract to sign . Is this illegal

  6. query says:

    i work twelve hours a week and work every other saturday and recently my employee says i have to work every saturday because i work twelve hours. Can they do this?

  7. Jason says:

    My employer who I have worked for 14 years has just put up the rotas for the next 3 weeks stating that I will finish at midnight or 1am but I work 20 miles from home and transport links stop before midnight, I have informed my manager that I would be unable to finish at these times as a taxi home would cost £20 per shift and I work 5 shifts per week, she said that there are a lot of staff in the same situation but there is nothing sh can do. Is this legal?

    • Safe Workers says:

      Hi Jason – This is not legal advice. The first thing you should do is to check your contract to see what it says about your working hours. If no mention of a working hours timeframe is in your contract, then unfortunately your employer may well be within their rights to do this. However, if many of your co-workers are in this situation it seems ill advised of your manager to simply throw up her hands and say there’s nothing she can do. Perhaps discussing this with your co-workers and finding out how many people are affected before approaching the manager again to try and negotiate a compromise would help. If the business ends up short staffed they may need to have a re-think.

  8. Chris Warden says:

    Hi my boyfriend has just been told that he is now only allowed a half an hour break and any travelling to work will not be paid for (ie if he is working away for the day). He has been working for the same business for 15 years but end of last year they were taken over and the new employers are making changes, where does he stand legally as he has not signed a contract to this effect?

  9. Emma says:

    Hi I checked my rota before I took my weeks holiday and I was not working the Sunday of the week after my holiday. Work rang me and asked me to cut my holuday short by 1 day I refused now I have been sent an amended rota with me working Sunday when I have plans for my wknd because I assumed I was off is this fair?

    • Lis says:

      Tell them you do not get back off holiday until 10pm on the Sunday. I have a golden rule, when you are on holiday, block your works number, your employers number and anyone else who you work with. Works all the time. I worked for one company and the Boss could not get their act together when it came to rotas (I have done rotas before I always did 5/6 weeks in advance and rarely had issues.) We would be waiting on the friday for them to do the following weeks rota, which started on the sunday. People like to plan their lives. I work to live not the other way round

  10. Debra says:

    I’m contracted to a four day week but always work the Friday morning as overtime now my employer wants to change my working week to five days so I don’t work overtime anymore. I will be losing a lot of money going on 5 days losing the overtime pay does my employer has to take this into account when changing my contract

  11. liam bradbury says:

    hi all
    my company has brought into another and have cut our man power from 7 to 6 which now means 6 of us are covering a 7 man rota.
    they have brought out a new rota which has us doing the same amount of hours but this has now increased my night work by over 200 hours a year can i ask for extra money due to the more unsociable hours? Liam

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