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I work in an infrastructure team of 6; one 1st line, three 2nd line and two 3rd line. As of a two weeks ago we have no infrastructure manager, so we are reporting to his manager/our operations manager. We have been told that there will be a new App support team of 2 and 1 extra infra member employed.

Our current shift format is:

  • Early Shift: 07:30 - 16:00
  • Core Hours: 08:30 - 17:00
  • Late Shift: 09:30 - 18:00

We have been informed that, as the company grows (current user base: about 500), our support hours will change so that the late shift is 13:30 - 21:00. We have been told by our ops manager that we should get together and 'work something out' about how to handle this new shift. We haven't had any input from HR or from an external party (union etc.). The general consensus within the team is that nobody really is keen to work these new support hours as they impede on our personal lives. The best idea we can all agree on is some sort of on-call remote working rota for the late shift, however we have been informed that there must be a engineer on site until 21:00. We have been given 3 days notice to have an idea sent to our Ops manager which will be presented to the MD & HR. In the past 3 months, 3 people from the infra team have handed in their notice (two 3rd line, one still working their notice, and the ifra manager)

TL;DR - support hours extended by 3 hours, responsibility of working out shift that nobody wants to cover given to infra team.

My questions are:

  1. Is it 'normal' or 'okay' that we have been asked to sort the shift patterns out ourselves?
  2. Is the new shift reasonable? If i were applying for jobs and read that I would have to cover until 21:00, I would give this one a miss.
  3. While the core hours stay the same, would the support hours changing require a change in contract? (i've not looked into this yet)
  4. what could we expect if we cannot agree on a new shift pattern?
  5. If we decline the responsibility, can we still refuse the proposed shift ideas?

Thanks

  • You say that there will be "1 extra infra member employed". If they haven't already advertised that position then that could be advertised as permanent late shift. That way, the existing staff keep their current shifts (except perhaps for training or absence cover) and the new member of staff knows it's a late shift role they are applying for – barrowc Aug 18 '17 at 1:54
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Ugh..this is straight out of the crappy manager's playbook. Essentially they know that no-one will be wanting the new late shift so they are abdicating the decision to the employees to try and avoid the inevitable flak from the unhappy people on the late shift. Sadly I've seen this one come up time and again when it comes to support hours.

To try and answer your questions:

Is it 'normal' or 'okay' that we have been asked to sort the shift patterns out ourselves?

It's not exactly 'normal' but it crops up worryingly often, and while it's not 'okay' it's not illegal or anything. Just crappy management.

Is the new shift reasonable? If i were applying for jobs and read that I would have to cover until 21:00, I would give this one a miss.

&

While the core hours stay the same, would the support hours changing require a change in contract? (i've not looked into this yet)

From the company's perspective it certainly isn't unreasonable but springing it on existing employees when it's definitely NOT what they signed up for is pretty unreasonable and if your working hours are specified in your contract then they may well not be able to make you work the new shift without your agreement. IANL however and I'm not going to pretend to give legal advice - speak to a lawyer or the Citizen's Advice Bureau and they can give you more accurate advice then I can!

What could we expect if we cannot agree on a new shift pattern?

They will likely try and impose a pattern on you, probably grumbling about how they "didn't want to have to do this" and so on. Basically making out it's all the employees' fault for not being "reasonable" or similar things like that - see my first paragraph!

If we decline the responsibility, can we still refuse the proposed shift ideas?

This will come down to the contractual details again, read your contract and get advice from a lawyer and/or the CAB.

  • If you go for formal, legal advice, start with Citizens' Advice Bureau as the first meeting is free and they can advise you what to do next. I'm sure we all know or assume that lawyers are expensive, but to quantify that, you're probably looking at £100p/h minimum, more likely double that - that's for meeting a solicitor / legal advisor in their office. (although if referred from CAB, most will give you a free hour, too). Your solicitor will almost certainly advise you to get a new job and put it behind you, rather than incur the upfront expense (£2500 starting) of unfair dismissal/tribunal. – Justin Jan 22 at 13:17
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Is it 'normal' or 'okay' that we have been asked to sort the shift patterns out ourselves?

No. I can understand management wanting to give you input, but there surely would have been some suggestion to steer you from the start.

Is the new shift reasonable? If i were applying for jobs and read that I would have to cover until 21:00, I would give this one a miss.

I think it is reasonable if the company has grown to a stage where it needs to offer more support. I know it's not one that you personally would takem but plenty of IT support jobs have shift patterns etc.

While the core hours stay the same, would the support hours changing require a change in contract? (i've not looked into this yet)

I presume that there would be a contractual change to state that you must work x late shifts a month or something. This all depends on the wording in your contract (Not a lawyer, legal advice, Citizens Advice Bureau can help here)

what could we expect if we cannot agree on a new shift pattern?

If you cannot get an agreement then you will need to seek legal advice. If they try to enforce a change in your contract you may be able to take legal action (I'm no laywer, but it could be brech of contract). I would suggest purely for a working relationship that you do all you can to come to an agreement. Have they specified why they want someone on premise? Maybe your angle is to suggest tools that allow you to be off site and do the same job. Can calls be re-routed to a work mobile phone(s)?

If we decline the responsibility, can we still refuse the proposed shift ideas?

What do you mean decline the responsibility? The company have determined that they need to offer that. I'm not sure you can decline that as such? If you can't come to a resolution then you will need to seek legal advice.

  • 1
    The company can decide they want something, that doesn't mean the existing employees are required to give it, unless it's in their contract that they should do it. If the contract specifies "working hours are 9-5" then you could refuse. (But it would probably not be pretty and I'd definitely suggest talking to a lawyer if you do that) – Erik Aug 17 '17 at 11:58
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I think your first two questions are well covered by other answers. This answer covers your question 3, 4 and 5.

Good news, it appears your employer has no right to change your working hours...:

Employers

You must get an employee’s agreement if you want to make changes to their contract.

https://www.gov.uk/your-employment-contract-how-it-can-be-changed

... unless it is already specified in your contract that they do have the right:

Flexibility clauses

Flexibility clauses are terms in a contract that give employers the right to change some conditions of employment, eg relocation.

Employers can only use flexibility clauses to make reasonable changes.

https://www.gov.uk/your-employment-contract-how-it-can-be-changed/making-changes

Bad news. IANAL, but my understanding of UK law is that if there is a legitimate business reason they can find a way to force through this sort of change.

It appears to me to be legal for your employer to do the following:

  • If none of the team will cover the late shift they could employ new people to carry out the late shift.
  • As they would then have more people than needed covering the "normal" shift, they could then make redundancies as necessary to bring down the number of people working the "normal" shift.

I am unsure whether this would be legal. The following from gov.uk (where they're making redundancies and then reemploying on a new contract) suggests it is possible but there are legal requirements to meet. The use of "may" for both employers and employees suggests it is far from clear cut:

Re-employment on new terms and conditions

Employers may, as a last resort, end a contract and re-employ someone on new terms and conditions.

Employers who are dismissing employees must follow the legally required:

  • redundancy procedure in England, Wales and Scotland
  • statutory minimum dismissal in Northern Ireland

If an employer does dismiss and re-employ someone, they may be able to take a case to a tribunal and claim:

  • breach of contract
  • unfair dismissal

https://www.gov.uk/your-employment-contract-how-it-can-be-changed/dealing-with-problems, emphasis mine

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Aside from normal or ok do you prefer if you manager just told you "Mr Brooks , from now on you work from 13-2100"

I think since the plan has to be presented to HR this is actually your opportunity to suggest how you make this work.

For example - people working after 1900 get some extra pay - a rotation (weekly/monthly) that works for you - that kind of other perks would you need (interesting projects that automate away some boring work that didn't get any management approval up to now)

You do have to realize that unless you are willing to give notice yourself this is probably done because customers want this so it most likely move forward one way or another

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    This is the UK. There's a good chance the employee can just say "no" to the new hours and be considered in the right. – Erik Aug 17 '17 at 11:59
  • Legally absolutely, it works the same way here too. Practically it forces you into a conflict (poor performance reviews etc) that has no winners and just means you end up better off getting another job. – Batavia Aug 17 '17 at 12:26
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    Yeah. You'd probably have to find a new job eventually, but you likely would have plenty of time to look for one. There's little risk of being unemployed overnight. – Erik Aug 17 '17 at 12:27

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