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Changes to your shifts

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This guide covers action to take if your employer is seeking to make changes to shifts and shift patterns.

If you are being redeployed due to staffing issues, please see our redeployment and unsustainable pressures advice guide.

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


Your employer may need to change your shift pattern for a number of reasons. For example, it may be a short-term change to balance staffing levels, or longer term to meet the needs of the service, such as a change to the opening times of your workplace. This can happen for a number of reasons, including unsustainable pressures caused by low staffing levels, and/or increased service demand can also be a factor. It may also happen as part of a service reorganisation.

The shift pattern change may affect just you or other colleagues as well.

When you're 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. A change to the number of hours worked per week is normally a change to your contract and requires your agreement.

If you do not have the right to continue working your existing shift pattern, please follow the guidance below. If you are unsure about your contract of employment please contact us for further support.

Check your local policy to see if there is anything to state how much notice is required prior to a change. As above, if you have the legal right to a fixed 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 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

You may also want to see our advice guides on working time and breaks and cancellation of work.

If you believe shift changes may be detrimental to your health, 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.

You may also find it helpful to see our guidance on disability discrimination.

If you have concerns about working night shifts, please see our working time and breaks guidance.

Changes to your usual shift pattern may be necessary for your health and for that of your unborn baby. Your employer should carry out a risk assessment as soon as possible after you inform them of your pregnancy, and there are specific protections in place for night shift workers. Find out more in our having a family toolkit.

Information on working time, night shifts, handover and on call work can all be found in our working time advice guide.

When making any large scale changes to shift patterns, your employer will usually ask for a meeting to talk about the changes. 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 there is a formal consultation and you require our support, please get in touch.

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

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 should raise this. You may want to consider taking out a grievance with our support - please contact us before submitting a formal grievance. 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 want 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 that the majority of staff are unhappy with.

You should also read our advice on grievances.

Consultation with safety representatives may also be required where the health and safety of their members may potentially be affected by the impact of shift changes. For more information please see our working time and breaks advice guide.

Working time, health and safety

Find out more about health and safety at work.

Your contract

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

Page last updated - 12/06/2024