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Blog • 14.11.19

Changing employees’ working hours

Kate L
HR Consultant

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Changing employees’ working hours can result in a lot of difficulties for employers, an extreme example of which we’ve seen in the recent news coverage surrounding Asda.

The supermarket chain handed out new employment contracts to over 120,000 of its hourly workers, which raised the basic rate of pay but also removed paid rest breaks and introduced the need for bank holiday working and high flexibility on working hours.

Workers had until midnight on Saturday 9th November to sign the contract – the deadline was previously Saturday 2nd – or they’d be at risk of losing their jobs.

Despite the change appearing to be legally sound, it’s sparked anger from company employees and members of the public alike, as calls to boycott the supermarket chain and threats to sue emerged. According to the regional officer of the GMB trade union, many workers are women whose shifts fit around their care arrangements.

So, what about if you’re wanting to change the hours that your employees work, or to alter another aspect of their contract, for example their place of work? It’s very unlikely that your actions will kick up as much fuss as Asda’s, but it’s still important to follow the right procedure to try and keep employees happy, no matter the size of your business.

In this guide, we’ll take you through the correct steps for changing an employee’s working hours to help you maintain a harmonious company culture.

Changing employees’ working hours

Before deciding to make a variation to staff working hours, make sure you have a valid reason for doing so. This reason should be in the interests of the business; for example, the need to cut staff hours due to falling profits.

You’ll only be able to make a change to your employee’s working hours if:

  • There’s a flexibility clause (sometimes called a variation clause) within their employment contract allowing you to do so; or
  • You consult and make an agreement with the employee (or their representative, e.g. a trade union) that the change can be made.

If there’s a flexibility clause

Even if there’s a flexibility clause in an individual’s contract, it’s always best practice to talk to them before implementing any changes. This way, they’ll be able to make any necessary arrangements in advance, and you can work with them to create the best possible outcome.

You can also be alerted about any specific challenges the changes will cause, and work together to resolve these. Offering them the chance to discuss your proposed changes will also help to preserve relationships.

If there’s not a flexibility clause

If the employee’s contract doesn’t contain a flexibility clause, you’ll have to consult with your employee and try to get their agreement before making any changes. To do this, you need to explain the business reason behind your proposed change and to ask about any concerns they may have.

Be sure to listen carefully to what they have to say, as they may raise points that you hadn’t considered. You can then try to negotiate a plan that works for both parties. If possible, you could offer incentives to employees to make their situation easier.

If changes to an employee’s working hours are agreed

Write to the employee within one month to confirm the contractual changes that have been made.

If changes are not agreed

You should try to hold discussions with your employee for as long as possible to come to an agreement about the change in their contract.

However, if a solution seems impossible to achieve, and the change is absolutely necessary to your business, you may end up having to try to force through the change. This option is very much a last resort, as forcing changes to hours will have a poor impact on morale and there are legal risks.

The process to force through a change would normally involve a documented consultation process, giving the employee notice of dismissal and offering to take them back on immediately under the new working arrangements.

If you are likely to be following this process for 20 or more employees, you need a high level of formal consultation. This process will expose you to the risk of unfair dismissal claims for anyone with two years’ service, breach of contract claims and may lead to a discrimination claim, for example if it affects caring responsibilities for a disabled child.

It’s always best practice to consult a HR professional in the situation where an employee refuses to agree to a variation of contract.

How much notice do employees need to change their working hours in the UK?

The notice needs to be the same or more than the notice you would need to give if you were going to dismiss the individual. The minimum notice will be one week for each completed year of service and longer if specified in the employment contract.

The content of this blog is for general information only. Please don’t rely on it as legal or other professional advice as that is not what we intend. You can find more detail on this in our Terms of Website Use. If you require professional advice, please get in touch.

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If you’re wanting to change your employees’ working hours, or make another variation of contract, our HR consultants can help.

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