Your web browser is outdated and may be insecure

The RCN recommends using an updated browser such as Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome

Cancellation of work

Pay and cancellation of work

In law there is no general obligation for your employer to provide you with work, as long as they pay your wages as outlined in your contract. 

Sometimes due to workload or patient need, an employer may ask you to reschedule your days off or your shifts. Though this may not adhere strictly to the hours stated in your contract, it could be seen as a reasonable request. Your contract may also provide for such requests. These requests need to be reasonable and agreeable to both parties. 

Check your contract and contact us if your employer is:

  • cancelling work and refusing to pay you
  • rescheduling work unreasonably, or
  • refusing to provide work over a long period of time.

Check your contract and any relevant policy in the first instance.

Generally, if you are ready, willing and able to get to work and your workplace or clinic is closed because of disruption, your employer should pay you. They may ask you to:

  • go to another workplace (only if it is safe to do so)
  • work from home (only if you normally do this), or
  • take annual leave. The RCN believes that generally annual leave should be taken through agreement. An employer can ask an employee to take annual leave but they should also give appropriate notice (at least the same amount of notice as the leave required). 

You can read further guidance if travel disruption has led to the cancellation of work.

If you are a ‘worker’, your staff bank or agency should follow a clear policy on cancellation of work.

It may be a breach of contract if the agency agrees to provide work and then withdraws the offer. You could also look to compromise by asking the agency for travelling expenses and some pay for your inconvenience if your shift is cancelled at short notice.

If you are in this situation check your agency's policies, any contracts you have been given and contact us if there is a dispute.

If your shifts have been cancelled following a work incident, please read our advice on investigations and statements. We also have further guidance for agency workers.

An employee is 'laid-off' if they are not provided with work by their employer on a temporary basis.

An employer can lay-off employees if:

  • there is an express contractual term which has been agreed between employer and employee
  • there is an agreement between the employer and a trade union which is incorporated into the individual contract, or
  • the practice has been established over a long period and is now implied in the contract.

A lay-off may be without pay where the contract of employment allows for this.

If the lay-off amounts to dismissal, you may be entitled to redundancy pay, statutorily guaranteed pay or - subject to certain conditions - a claim for unfair dismissal.

Further information about lay-offs is available from ACAS

Your contract

Get answers to your contract questions including notice queries and whether your employer can change your contract.

Bullying, harassment and stress

Find out how to tackle bullying at work, or deal with accusations of bullying.

Search our advice guides

See our A-Z of advice. These guides will help you answer many of your questions about work. 

Page last updated - 12/09/2023