Changing Employees Working Hours

First published on Tuesday, Feb 23, 2021

Last updated on Monday, Jul 08, 2024

Many companies operate on varying work hours. This can lead employers to believe changing employees' working hours whenever they want is possible.

Typically, salaried employees work on a fixed schedule with set times for clocking in and out, but employees who work on contract hours tend to vary their working hours to meet the business' needs.

These fluctuating hours can lead some employers to believe they may change an employee's work schedule at any time. But making such changes isn't as straightforward as it may seem, so it's important to do your due diligence first.

Understanding the regulations behind changing an employee’s working hours before making any considerable changes that could change the employment relationship helps you avoid landing in legal trouble.

In this guide, we’ll discuss the reasons behind changing working hours, how much notice is needed and if employees have the right to refuse overtime.

A person changing working hours

Can you change your employees working hours?

As an employer, you may be entitled to make a change to an employee’s working hours depending on the language of their employment contract.

You may make small adjustments like shift changes that don't fundamentally change your employment agreement with the employee. But, you can't make considerable changes such as;

  • Slashing their wages, bonuses and commissions
  • Cutting down their hours of work
  • Changing their job title or demoting them
  • Changing their work location

The only instances where it's acceptable to make such major changes to your staff member's employment contract are when advance notice is given, and the employee accepts the new terms. It must be your employee's choice to accept the new terms, and you can't force an employee to accept new terms.

You must also give the employee fresh consideration when you substantially change their employment contract. An amended employment contract will only become valid and binding for you and your employee once there is: an offer, fresh consideration, and acceptance of the new, modified employment contract.

Fresh consideration can be a promotion, bonus, or something else of value that captures the significance of the contractual amendment and the position and tenure of the employee

Forcing your employees to make changes to their working schedule could lead to a constructive dismissal and a potential legal battle. It's not uncommon for a constructively dismissed staff member to team up with an employment law firm and take their former employer to the Employers Standards Tribunal.

You should discuss any potential change to work hours when employment starts. At this stage, it can also help to get guidance from employment lawyers to make sure any agreements you make with your employees are in line with employment standards regulations.

They'll also advise you on whether to include a change clause in their contract if you feel a change may be needed in the future.

Can you change an employee's schedule at the last minute?

Last-minute changes to employees' schedules can be complex to navigate because there are conditions you may have to meet to be able to do this.

As an employer, you may only change your employee's schedule when you have their written agreement and consent to do so. This can also include changing their work hours at the last minute.

The details of this should be contained in their employment contract and outline conditions for when it's permissible to change your employee's schedule.

For example, in Ontario, the Employment Standards Act doesn't have any specific provisions or requirements for changing employees' schedules.

But there are scheduling laws that say your employee has the right to reject schedule changes or overtime hours, and you must give them sufficient notice.

Signing a contract to change pay

How much notice should you give staff before changing their working hours?

Generally, most employment standards legislation in Canadian provinces are silent on providing an employee’s work schedule in advance. However, some jurisdictions require employers to give minimum previous notice before adding, removing, or changing working time.

In the federal jurisdiction, employers must give notice to an employee about their work schedule at least 96 hours before the start of the first shift in that schedule, following an update of the Canadian Labour Code.

This is alongside the 24-hour written notice required for a shift change. You must also provide your workers with eight hours of rest between shifts.

This applies to Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta.

There can be exceptions to this; however, you must prove that the changes couldn’t be foreseen, such as a threat to any person's life, health, or safety.

Can employers make changes to shifts?

Employers can move shifts around and make adjustments to schedules for contract-hour workers, but not in a way that will negatively impact the employee.

You can't make changes like giving an employee longer hours without offering overtime pay, changing their shift from morning to evening, or changing their break periods.

Remember, your employees have most likely planned their lives around their work schedules, and making abrupt changes to their hours of work can disrupt their personal obligations like picking up their children or fulfilling other responsibilities.

This can cause the employee undue hardship, and they may claim it as a constructive dismissal.

Can employers change employment agreements without telling the employee?

The short answer is no. As an employer, you can't fundamentally change your employment contract without telling the employee. If you make changes to things like your employee's regular rate, their hours of work, or any other significant changes, it can be seen as a constructive dismissal.

The employee would not be legally bound to the terms of the contract since they didn't know of the changes made or consent to them. I

If you have a written agreement with your employees, make sure any changes you make are also in writing and the employee is duly informed of their modified duties, shift changes, salary paid, terms of service or any other proposed modifications.

Remember to offer fresh consideration when making any fundamental change to your employee's hours of work so the changes remain valid and enforecable.

Can employees ask to change their working hours?

Employees are well within their rights to ask to change their hours at work. But they must have a legitimate reason. It must be clear that issues may be caused if their hours aren’t changed.

This request can be put in a letter to change working hours. Upon receiving this letter, you should hold a one-on-one meeting with the employee to discuss their request.

The letter should include the reasons why, the benefits it’ll bring, and the issues it’ll cause if not changed.

This discussion will allow you to share any concerns surrounding the changes and develop a solution that suits you and your employees. It will also strengthen your working relationship.

There are many reasons for changing working hours. Some of these may include:

  • An employee needs time to study or attend college.
  • They have to attend regular medical appointments for themselves or a family member.
  • Family changes, such as having to complete a school run or childcare.
  • Undertaking a gradual return to work following long-term sickness or maternity leave.
  • They’re looking to retire in the near future, so they may slowly reduce their working hours.

Although it may be frustrating having to alter your employee's working hours, circumstances change, so try to accommodate these requests where possible.

Can you be forced to work overtime in Canada?

Employees have the right to refuse to work overtime as long as they have a legitimate reason. These reasons include:

  • If they have responsibilities for the health and care of a family member or members.
  • If they have responsibilities for the education of any family members under the age of 18.

Before refusing the overtime, every effort must have been made to deal with the responsibilities. More information on employees refusing overtime can be found on the Canadian Government website.

What constitutes a constructive dismissal?

We have mentioned constructive dismissals throughout this article and how making changes to employees' employment statements without notice or other fundamental changes counts as constructive dismissal.

Let's examine some changes to employees' working hours and their employment arrangement that can amount to constructive dismissal.

Can an employer force employees to relocate?

Forcing an employee to change the location of their job can be seen as constructive dismissal. It's a fundamental change to their terms of employment and can make it harder for them to carry out their tasks, especially if the new location is far away from where they live.

Forcing an employee to change their city, province or office location may force them to resign if it increases the cost and time for commuting, and they may seek full severance pay.

Can an employer cut their employee's pay?

Making significant cuts to your employee's income without their consent amounts to constructive dismissal.

Slashing your employees' pay for no valid reason, including their commissions and bonuses, gives them the right to resign and file for full severance pay.

Two people signing a contract looking at new hours

Can an employer change their employee from full-time to part-time?

You can't take an employee from full-time work to part-time without them requesting it. Changing employment status in most cases is when a part-time employee becomes a full-time employee.

But, changing an employee from full-time to part-time work can be seen as a demotion, which is a significant change to their terms of employment, especially if they started out as full-time staff.

Can an employer change their employee's job description?

If the language of your staff's employment agreement states that their duties or roles can be changed or modified, it's possible for you to change some aspects of their job description.

But, you can't make any changes to the material terms of the agreement, or it could be interpreted as you terminating the employee.

Get help with your contracts and employee hours today with BrightHR

Changing your employee's working hours may be necessary in some situations, but it's important to handle this complex HR issue with care to avoid landing in legal hot water.

If you need to change your employee’s hours, you need to have an open discussion with your employees first before implementing any changes.

But remember that having a discussion is not enough; you must also get their written consent and document the entire process to prove the employee agreed to the modification of their hours of work.

Getting everything in writing will help protect your business if your employee ever files a claim for constructive or unjust dismissal. It can also serve as a reference document for you and the employee whenever you need to be reminded of the current employment relationship.

As a business owner, you’re already balancing so much on your plate. The last thing you need to slow you down is piles of paper and manual logs of your staff’s working hours.

If you need help tracking your employee's working hours, our handy clocking-in tool, Blip makes the whole process quick and easy.

With Blip, your staff only need their mobile phone to clock in or out. And with just a glance at Blip, you can make sure you’re meeting hours of work regulations and check who’s available to work.

Blip helps you keep official records of staff hours, breaks, and overtime to make sure you’re meeting all hours of work regulations. So, that’s one app to help you:

  • Log core working hours and locations
  • Make sure staff are taking enough breaks
  • Record all staff overtime
  • Export and save work histories for your employee's regular rate

Plus, our HR document storage tool allows you to securely store your modified and existing employee contracts and agreements on the cloud and easily retrieve them whenever you need to.

You can also download expertly written HR document templates and customize them to your needs

Interested in learning more about how we help you? Contact us at 18882204924 or book a demo today.

Lucy Cobb

Employment Law Specialist

Share this article

Have a question?

Ask away, we’ve got lightning fast answers for Canadian business owners and employers powered by qualified experts.

More on contracts

Domestic Workers

Throughout the world, people are often hired to look after someone’s children or to take care of the family home – and this is no different in ...

Read more about Domestic Workers

Retail Workers

Over two million people are working in retail in Canada, with a significant increase in retail workers during the holidays. Before hiring staff for ...

Read more about Retail Workers

Continuity of Employment

Businesses can change ownership from time to time, but what happens to employees once this happens is extremely important. The last thing you want is ...

Read more about Continuity of Employment

Employee Record Retention

As an employer, you’re required to maintain employee records for each member of staff. These confidential records must be kept during and after ...

Read more about Employee Record Retention

Fixed-Term Contracts

It’s important for every employer to establish terms of employment with their employees. Most employees are hired indefinitely – which means there is ...

Read more about Fixed-Term Contracts

Flexible Working

As the world of work evolves and adapts to new challenges, one of the most common and popular innovations is flexible working. This work model allows ...

Read more about Flexible Working

Foreign Workers

Foreign workers are a significant part of Canada’s job market. As Canadian employers continue to look for candidates to fill empty job positions, ...

Read more about Foreign Workers

Terms of Employment

Hiring an employee is an investment, and it’s important that you and your staff understand roles, rights, and responsibilities during their ...

Read more about Terms of Employment
Employees going over the employee handbook

Employee Handbook

An employee handbook is a valuable tool to communicate with your employees about your business operations. It can provide your employees guidance ...

Read more about Employee Handbook