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Changes to your shifts

This guide covers action to take if your employer is seeking to make changes to shifts and shift patterns. This can happen for a number of reasons including unstained pressures caused by low staffing levels and/or increased service demand. It may also happen as part of a service reorganisation.

Please also see our Nursing Workforce Standards for information about workforce planning and rostering. 

Establish your legal rights 

Sometimes management may need to change your shift pattern. For example, to balance staffing levels, meet the needs of the service, or because the opening times of your workplace are changing. The shift pattern change may affect just you or other colleagues as well.

When told that your shift pattern may change it is important to establish your legal rights. Your contract of employment or local policy may allow your employer to change your shift pattern if they follow the correct process. For example, your contract may only specify the number of hours you work per week while requiring you to 'work flexibly to meet the needs of the department' or similar. Your contract may also state that, provided you are given a fixed amount of notice, your working pattern can be changed.

If you have the legal right to continue working to your existing shift pattern, please discuss this with your employer. Please contact us if the issue cannot be resolved and read our advice on contracts.

If you do not have this right, please follow the guidance below. For further support, especially if you are unsure about your contract of employment, contact us.

You could also submit a flexible working request, especially if the changes affect your childcare or caring responsibilities.

Please note, if you work in the NHS and are asked to change your shift at short notice you may be entitled to a change payment of £15. Please see the following sections in the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service Handbook for more information:

England - section 2.24
Scotland and Northern Ireland - section 2.23
Wales - section 2.25

It is good practice for an employer to discuss and give notice when making any large scale changes to shift patterns. They will usually ask for a meeting to talk about the change. This gives you the opportunity to discuss your preferred shift pattern and express any concerns. If possible, speak to your manager informally about the changes before any formal consultation.

If you believe shift changes may be detrimental to your health, or if you are disabled, discuss this with your manager. If you cannot resolve this, contact your occupational health department. If they agree that changes will be detrimental to your health they will make recommendations. 

The meeting with your employer is an opportunity for you to negotiate. By acknowledging the needs of the service while explaining your own needs, you may be able to persuade your manager to at least partially meet your desired shift pattern.

There is no legal right to be accompanied to these meetings, although most employers will allow this. Please check with your manager or human resources department. Contact us if you need support.

Do not refuse a new shift pattern unless you are intending to resign. If you have already established that your employer has a legal right to change your shift pattern, refusal may result in your employer fairly dismissing you. There may be grounds for a grievance. Before taking formal action of any sort (including resignation), contact us.

Most meetings will end with your manager proposing a compromise. If you are sure you are happy with the compromise, this can be verbally agreed in the meeting. If you have any uncertainty, ask your manager for some time to consider the offer.

Following the meeting, you should receive written confirmation of your shift pattern. Check that this is a true reflection of the meeting. If it is not, ask for it to be corrected.

If you believe your employer has not acted correctly, you may wish to consider taking out a grievance with our support. Under some employers’ policies, taking out a grievance will delay any changes until after the grievance has been heard.

A change to shifts does not require a new contract. Signing a new contract could result in the loss of accrued benefits, in particular continuity of service and employment protection. An amendment to the contract can be drawn up and agreed by both parties. We recommend that you have the new or amended contract checked by us before you sign it. 

If you wish to raise concerns collectively, please contact us to discuss this further. This may happen if your manager refuses all requests for shift changes without proper consideration or if there is a shift pattern in place which the majority of staff are unhappy with. Again, the emphasis should be on positive communication with management. You should also read our advice on grievances.

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Your contract

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

Unsustainable pressures

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified existing pressures on staffing and resources in all health and care settings.

This resource has been designed to support members in delivering safe and effective care and with the difficult decisions they make every day.

Page last updated - 30/05/2022