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Shift Pattern Change Laws

Or, if you’re the one to change the contract, then you’re still bound by shift pattern change laws.

No matter where the change comes from, handling correctly is tricky. In this article, we’ll take a look at what you need to know, and how to manage requests and the change itself.

An employer looking at their employees shift patterns

What exactly is the shift pattern change law?

This is the term that defines the rules surrounding changing shift patterns. There isn’t one specific law that addresses this issue, but several. Perhaps the most important of these is the Working Time Regulations 1998.

This states that no employee can work over 48 hours a week on average. However, an employee can choose to work more, if they wish, by opting out of the 48-hour week.

There are some exceptions to these rules, you can find out more about working time regulations here.

The other thing you need to consider is the type of employment contract. This is key when considering changing shift patterns and the law surrounding it. For example, If their contract states that their hours are fixed, you’ll face a different challenge than if their hours are subject to change.

Who can change a shift pattern?

As an employer, changing shift patterns is your decision.

Despite this, it’s crucial you get the employee’s consent before doing so. If their hours aren’t fixed, you may change them at your discretion, so long as the change is reasonable.

You should also notify them of the change in good time to avoid confusion. This is acceptable because their initial agreement to the flexible arrangement counts as their consent to change hours.

If the employee has fixed hours, the employee must agree to any change before you make it. Failure to get their consent before changing shift patterns at work is likely to end in a alongside a breach in contract.

Employees can also request a change to their working pattern. They can request flexible working hours. They can also ask to reduce their working hours. However, they must have worked for you for at least 26 weeks to do this. If they have made a request within the last 12 months, they cannot make another request.

How do I legally change a shift pattern?

Whether you are implementing a change or an employee has requested a change, there are certain steps you should take to ensure the change is legal.

The first thing to remember is that a change in working hours means a contract change. We can help you update current contracts and create new ones here.

It’s often a good idea to implement a trial period with the new working hours. This allows both you and the employee to address any issues that arise because of the change. Hold a meeting with the employee in question to address these issues and come up with solutions.

The final issue that you need to consider is giving notice of changes. This is a problem that often causes disputes between employees and employers, and so, we’ll look at this in-depth in our next section:

Changing flexible working shift patterns

Once you have approved a flexible working request, it forms a permanent change to the employee’s contract of employment, unless agreed otherwise, and you cannot change it without further agreement between you and the employee.

You can both agree that the arrangements are temporary or subject to a trial period. In some circumstances, for example, where an employee is caring for someone with a terminal illness, the employee may wish to have only a temporary period of flexible working, which you may accommodate.

Changing to and from night shifts

You may need employees to work the night because of demand in the industry. Alternatively, you may need to bring night shift staff during the day.

If an employee’s contract doesn’t state they have to do night work or day shifts, you will normally need their agreement to change their hours.

A contract can be in writing or a verbal agreement. Anything else would be a breach of contract and can cause an employment tribunal case.

How much notice to change shift patterns

There is no clear legal guidance for giving notice for shift pattern change. The law states that the amount of notice you give must be ‘reasonable’ but doesn’t define what this is.

In this section, we’ll look at different scenarios and decide what counts as reasonable in each.


If you want to change a single shift, then the notice you need to give will be significantly less than notice for an entire shift pattern change. In most cases, a minimum of 12 hours would be reasonable to cancel a shift.

If you were looking to change a weekly rota, you may need to give a little more notice of this, 24 hours at least.

If your workplace runs on shift patterns, it may be worth including a clause in your staff handbook that states how much notice you will give prior to a change. This way you manage staff expectations and keep yourself accountable.

If the change is specific to one employee and is a significant change to the way they work, this isn’t a shift change but a contract change. An example of this would be a flexible working arrangement that states the employee works three days a week being changed to four days a week.

The notice given to employees of a change to shift patterns, in this case, is different. A contract change means you need to give one week’s notice if they’ve been with the company between one month and two years. Employees who have been with you for longer than this should receive two weeks’ notice, plus an extra week’s notice for each further complete year of continuous employment.


What if you’re an employee looking for a change? How much notice is required to change a shift pattern?

They can request a change to their working hours at any time. However, they must be legally classed as an employee to do this. They must also have worked for you for at least 26 weeks.

When considering their request, there is a notice period for changing shift patterns. You must follow a fair process, reasonably consider their request, and decide within a maximum of three months.