Notice Required to Change Working Hours of an Employee

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis

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06 Aug 2020

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Given the current situation in the UK, you’ll want to save costs. It’s also highly likely you’ll want to avoid redundancies. One way to do both of these things is to change the working hours of an employee.

However, depending on your employment contracts, this may be fraught with risks. It’s important that you not only provide the right amount of notice but that you conduct the whole process fairly.

In this article, we’ll ensure you stay compliant and provide the correct amount of notice.

Clause vs no variation clause

Ultimately, you need to approach a contract change in one of two ways. These two different approaches hinge on one key element:

Is there a variation clause in the contract?

  • If there is, the process is simpler and less risky. However, don’t let this lull you into a false sense of security. The employee may still to disagree to your terms—including the notice period. Also, whether the clause is enforceable will depend upon how specific it is.
  • If there isn’t, the process is a little trickier and riskier. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a change. Any employer is within their rights to change working hours. You just have to ensure you follow a fair process and stay legally compliant and not in breach of contract. That means respecting the rights of the employee.

To save you time, we’ve split the rest of this article into two sections. Read whichever applies to your situation:

I have a variation clause

Change to working hours—employee rights

First, let’s look at the employee’s rights when it comes to a contract change.

If you propose a change to working hours and they disagree, they can say they’re working ‘under protest’. This means they refuse to agree to the change, but they’ll continue to perform their role (under what their current contract states).

It also means that they’re willing to find a resolution. The employee must do this as soon as they know about the change.

if they agreed to work under the new terms for some time before then 'working under protest,' they may find it difficult to later justify to an employment tribunal that the changes were unacceptable 

The employee is also protected against discrimination. This means if they believe you’re making changes to their contract due to a protected characteristic, they can bring a claim against you.

When it comes to their notice period, the employee’s rights depend on the variation clause.

How much notice is required to change working hours in the UK?

If the clause mentions a notice period, then you should stick to that. If it doesn’t, it’s still best practice to provide a notice period. Why? Because they’ll need time to adjust to the change.

They may need to make childcare arrangements following a notice to change working hours. Meaning you should provide them with adequate time.

“Adequate” will mean something different in each situation. And so, you should consult with staff to ensure you’re not being unreasonable.

I don’t have a variation clause

Change to working hours—employee rights

First, let’s look at the employees and an employer's rights to change working hours.

Employees have the right to work under protest when you propose a change to their contract. They’re also protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

This means, if they believe the contract change is a result of a protected characteristic, they have the right to bring a discrimination claim against you.

Since you don’t have a variation clause, you’ll need to consult with the employee before making a change to their contract. Failure to do this may result in a claim of constructive dismissal.

How much notice to change working hours in the UK

As you have to agree on the change with the employee (or their representative), you must also agree with the period of notice.

So, how much notice to change working hours is reasonable?

As a rule, you must provide a minimum of one week for each completed year of service. It should be (at least) the same as the notice you’d give if you were dismissing the individual.  

Contract changes due to coronavirus

With the extraordinary circumstances we’re facing today, you might be considering a contract change. If so, we have some resources to help you.

And remember, if you need further support with a contract change, you can speak to a Croner expert on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is the senior manager of the Litigation and Employment Department and assumes additional responsibility for managing Croner’s office based telephone HR advisory teams, who specialise in employment law, HR and commercial legal advice for small & large organisations across the United Kingdom.

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