Will your staff have the right to ask for more stable working hours?

  • Employment Law
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James Potts - Legal Services Director at Peninsula

James Potts, Legal Services Director

(Last updated )

The government could be changing the rights of staff who work unpredictable hours.

Why? Well, many businesses decide when their staff work. Which means some workers don’t know when or if they’re going to get work from one week to the next. And while an unfixed, irregular arrangement works great for some, it can cause issues for others.

That’s why the government is now planning to give these workers an opportunity to potentially regain some more stability over the way they work (if they want to).

But whether or not this update will affect your business depends on the kind of staff you employ. So, to answer any questions, here’s what you should know…

What’s changing?

The government plans to give all workers who have unpredictable working hours the right to ask for a more predictable working pattern. Once in effect, these workers will be able to make a request twice a year.

This law doesn’t mean your staff have to make a request, but it gives them the right to ask if they want to.

What are “predictable” and “unpredictable” working patterns?

Someone who has an unpredictable working pattern has no fixed or permanent working pattern.

They might work some, but not all of the time. Their working hours might change every week. They might work very few hours one week, and many hours the next. Or, they might not have any work at all some weeks.

This means these workers have to try and plan their lives around their work schedule, which is always changing.

So, if your staff are asking for a more predictable working pattern, they’re asking for a more stable and regular way of working. Which could mean they ask you to change:

  • How many hours they work
  • How many days they work
  • How long they’re contracted to work

Who has the right to ask for more stable working hours?

Any worker will be able to ask for more stable working hours if their current hours are unpredictable. They’ll be workers who may not have a lot of, or any, certainty over the times or hours they work.

This might be the case if you have staff who work for you temporarily, for a fixed amount of time, or as and when you need them.

So, it could be anyone who is a:

  • Zero-hour worker
  • Variable-hour worker
  • Fixed-term worker 
  • Agency worker

Employees will also be able to make a request, but it’s more likely they’ll already have a permanent working arrangement. Employees can also make flexible working requests to change their working terms, whereas workers can’t do this.

If you’re not sure what the difference is between a worker and an employee, you can find out here.

And if any of your staff are eligible, they’ll likely only be able to request more regular and stable hours after they’ve worked for you for at least 26 weeks. The government hasn’t confirmed this yet though.

How will this affect fixed-term workers?

If you need someone to work for a specific amount of time, you may hire a fixed-term worker. These workers are on non-permanent contracts.

If you employ a fixed-term worker who is on a 12-month contract or less, this right will apply to them too.

Because fixed-term workers have no certainty of work after their contract ends, they have an unpredictable working pattern. So, they will be able to ask for you to either extend their contract or give them a permanent one.

If I hire an agency worker, can they ask me for more stable hours?

Agency workers will be able to ask for more stable hours, but not from you. Any changes to contractual agreements will be between them and the agency that employs them.

How long will I have to respond to a request?

From the day your worker puts in a request, you have one month to decide whether to accept or reject it.

Can I refuse a request?

You will only be able to refuse a request for one of a few specific reasons.

The government hasn’t confirmed these reasons but they’re likely to be very similar to the reasons for rejecting a flexible working request.

What if I can’t provide stable hours?

The law will allow staff the right to request stable hours, but the right to receive them will depend on you.

If you hire people to work irregular hours, there’s probably a reason for that. You might not have regular work to give, or there might be times when you need staff to take on more or less work if demand fluctuates.

So, it might be the case that you need to agree on an alternative to regular, stable hours.

If you don’t already, one option could be allowing your staff to swap shifts. This gives your worker a bit more flexibility if they’re unable to work a shift you’ve given them. Someone else can cover them and vice versa. There are also shift-swapping apps you can download for your staff to use, to save having to manage every shift swap yourself.

You could also consider providing a minimum number of core hours, but give your staff the option to work more whenever there’s an increase in demand. Alternatively, you could give your staff a low number of hours as standard but allow them to work paid overtime.

What if I can’t keep track of when staff are working?

When your staff have greater flexibility over when and how much they work, it might make keeping track of shifts and rota planning difficult.

So, to make life easier, you can use online staff rota software to help manage your rota planning and shifts for you.

With software, you can create editable and shareable rotas, keep track of who is accepting and declining shifts, leave notes for staff, and more. Plus, everything gets stored securely in your online records, so there’s no stress or time-wasting if you need to check something.

How can I prepare?

The law isn’t yet in place, so you have no legal obligation to take or accept any requests right now.

However, it’s important to be ready for when the law does take effect, as you’ll only have one month to respond to any requests your workers make.

Some workers might not want a more predictable working pattern if casual work suits them. So, in future, it may be a good idea to find out your worker’s preference during the recruitment process. That way, if your worker does want more stability, you can consider whether this is something you can provide from day one.

You may also need to update your policies and contracts with the new rule. Your documents will need to outline how workers can put in a request if they want to make one.

In the meantime, for advice on how to make staff rota planning easier with HR software, shift swapping, and more, give your adviser a call today.

Or, if you’re not a Peninsula client, chat with an expert for free on 0800 029 4384 or leave us a few details and we’ll get back to you.

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