Shift working: your rights

As businesses all over the world aim to meet people’s expectations for round-the-clock service, the number of people working shifts is on the increase. Find out about your rights here.

working dads shift work


While shift working can sometimes be a challenge because of its unpredictability, for many dads it’s a choice that gives more flexibility and freedom, and helps them balance the competing demands of family life and work.

Managing changes

The pace of change in business has never been so fast, though, and that could mean your employer will seek to change your hours or working days – which may or may not work in your favour.

So it’s a good idea to have a sense of your rights as an employee, in case this should happen.

Your Rights

As an employee you have two sets of rights: your contractual rights as set out in your contract of employment, and your statutory rights, which are your legal rights as a UK citizen.  A request from your employer to change shift patterns will partly depend on whether your contract allows it.

If the contract just sets out the minimum number of hours you’re required to work, which is common in shift workers’ contracts, generally your employer can change your shift patterns – as long as you’re still working the contracted number of hours.

If the new shift does alter the number of hours you would be working, this is a change to your contract. The employer has to give you notice of the change and consult with you on the details. You can either accept or reject the change. If you reject it there will usually be ongoing negotiation to reach agreement on both sides.

Statutory rights

All employees are protected by statutory rights. Amongst other things, these give you the right to request a change to your working arrangements, including shift patterns, so you can work in a way that better suits your lifestyle.

This right to request flexible working is not limited to people with childcare and other carer responsibilities. Anyone can make a single request within a 12-month period.

Employers have to respond to a flexible working request in a reasonable manner, which includes considering the request properly. They can only refuse for certain business reasons; for example your suggested approach will affect quality or performance, the ability to meet customer demand, or there wouldn’t be enough to do at the times you’re proposing to work.


Employers have to treat everyone fairly. Refusing a flexible working request from a father with childcare responsibilities could be discrimination. Here’s an example: an employer agrees flexible working for women on the grounds that they are mothers, but fails to do so for a dad.

Often you can resolve this kind of issue with an informal discussion with your manager. But if your employer is refusing to have a discussion and you feel that the shift change is unjustified, it’s worth seeking legal advice.

Generally, employers are seeking to do the right thing by their shift working employees, but by better understanding your rights you can know for certain whether you’re being treated fairly.

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