Last reviewed 19 August 2020

Given the current situation in the UK, there will be many businesses which will want to save costs. It is also highly likely businesses will want to avoid redundancies. One way to do both of these things is to change the working hours of an employee. In this article, Croner outlines how businesses can stay compliant and provide the correct amount of notice.

Depending on the employment contracts, changing employee's working hours may be fraught with risks. It is important that employers not only provide the right amount of notice, but that the whole process is conducted fairly.

Clause vs no variation clause

Ultimately, employers 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, do not let this lull anyone into a false sense of security. The employee may still disagree to the employer’s terms — including the notice period. Also, whether the clause is enforceable will depend upon how specific it is.

  • If there is not, the process is a little trickier and riskier. That does not mean a change cannot be made. Any employer is within their rights to change working hours. An employer has to ensure a fair process is followed and stay legally compliant and not in breach of contract which means respecting the rights of the employee.

A variation clause exists

Change to working hours — employee rights

First, employers should look at the employee's rights when it comes to a contract change.

If a change to working hours is proposed and they disagree, they can say they are working “under protest”. This means they refuse to agree to the change, but they will continue to perform their role (under what their current contract states). It also means that they are 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 “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 changes being made to their contract are due to a protected characteristic, they can bring a claim against the employer. 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 an employer 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 an employer should provide them with adequate time.

“Adequate” will mean something different in each situation. And so, staff should be consulted to ensure an employer is not being unreasonable.

A variation clause does not exist

Change to working hours — employee rights

Employees have the right to work under protest when a change to their contract is proposed. They are 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 the employer.

Since there is no variation clause, an employer will 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 an employer has to agree on the change with the employee (or their representative), the employer must also agree with the period of notice.

So, how much notice to change working hours is reasonable? As a rule, an employer must provide a minimum of one week for each completed year of service. It should be (at least) the same as the notice which would be given if the individual was being dismissed.