Can My Employer Change My Schedule Last Minute? - What You Need To Know
There are many reasons why having a fixed or advanced schedule at work is beneficial for employees. A work schedule largely dictates the rest of your schedule and having advance notification of working hours allows for the scheduling of appointments, childcare, and social or recreational activities. Work schedules can also help with the planning of monthly or weekly finances, particularly if your shift patterns or working hours dictate your rate of pay.
Therefore, it is frustrating when your schedule gets altered at the last minute. Plans with friends or family, appointments, and childcare arrangements can all be disrupted by these changes. This can be a minor inconvenience or a major stressor in your life. So, can your employer change your schedule last-minute legally?
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Can an employer change an employee’s scheduled hours?
In short, yes, employers can change an employee’s schedule at their own discretion. This may be a necessary change to cover sickness, leave, or general staff shortage. It could also be for no reason whatsoever.
The Department of Labor states that employers are free to make changes to an employee’s schedule without prior notice or consent from the employee, and this is only void in the instance of a preexisting agreement between the employer and employee or representative.
This means that, unless explicitly stated in your employment contract or other written agreement between you and your employer, they can alter your assigned shift pattern, change your work hours, or make any other schedule changes deemed necessary at any time.
How much notice is required?
The notice that is required to be given for scheduling changes varies depending on the state in which your employment is located. It is important that you familiarize yourself with the relevant labor laws in your state.
If your state has predictive scheduling laws, your employer is required to give you notice of any scheduling changes that have been made. If you are based in New York, for example, your employer is required to provide you with 72 hours' notice of scheduling changes. In some states, the required period of notice increases to 14 days. If your job is based in Seattle, your employer is required to increase your rate of pay to time and a half for shifts that occur less than 10 hours apart, as well as offering special rates of pay for schedule changes.
However, if you do not live in a state that has predictive scheduling laws, your employer has the legal right to change your schedule as and when they see fit, including last-minute changes.
When can an employer not change an employee’s schedule?
There are, of course, instances when an employer cannot legally change an employee’s schedule either last-minute or with a reasonable notice period.
Industry dictated limitations
There are certain industries in which employers are prohibited from making certain schedule changes due to limitations on how many hours can be worked per week.
An example of such an industry is freight and haulage. Workers in this industry are limited to 14 hours on duty following a minimum of 10 hours off duty. They are further limited to 11 hours of driving per shift with mandatory breaks of 30 minutes minimum every 8 hours. Within these limitations, 14-hour shifts are not allowed to be extended through strategic breaks, meals, or fuel stops.
If you have taken a period of leave under FMLA (the Family and Medical Leave Act), your employer is legally bound to provide the same working conditions upon your return as were provided before the leave was taken. Your employer is not permitted to reduce working hours or scheduled shifts as a result of, or during your leave, if you had fixed scheduled hours and shifts prior.
Local, state, or federal law conflicts
All employers must abide by the local, state, or federal employment laws relevant to their business.
In the instance that there is a labor law that prohibits last-minute changes to an employee’s schedule, your employer is duty-bound to abide by it. If they fail to comply with the labor law at any level, they may be subject to employment-based lawsuits.
Lack of adequate compensation for scheduled hours
Your employer may be subject to overtime laws if you are a part-time or non-exempt full-time employee. In this instance, your employer can only alter your schedule by adding hours if they are providing adequate compensation in line with the relevant overtime laws.
What to do if an employer keeps rescheduling an employee’s hours last minute
There are many situations in which your employer may be legally within their rights to change your schedule at the last minute. However, if you find yourself being subjected to multiple instances of your employer making last-minute changes to your schedule there are a few steps that you can take to try and alleviate the issue.
Discuss the situation with your boss
The first step in dealing with any work-related issue is always to talk to your boss. Have a conversation with the member of management that you report to, and let them know that the last-minute changes to your schedule are wreaking havoc with your ability to schedule other priorities. Be clear that you are still willing to be flexible in your schedule, and that the last-minute nature of the changes is causing the issue.
Alert HR of the issue
If your employer is not open to having a discussion about the last-minute changes to your schedule or if the conversation does not resolve the issue, it becomes a matter for the HR department. Schedule a meeting with your company's HR team to discuss the employee relations issue and see if they can resolve it.
Seek legal counsel
If you suspect that labor law violations are being committed through the last-minute scheduling changes, seeking legal counsel is the best course of action. A legal professional will be able to determine if any laws have been violated and advise on further action if necessary. In many cases, legal advice is free to obtain.
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While in many instances an employer is well within their legal rights to make last-minute scheduling changes, there are a few caveats. It is important to understand the employment laws that apply at local, state, and federal levels. Even if your employer is abiding by the relevant labor laws, many may be open to a conversation about regular last-minute scheduling changes.
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