How much notice must an employer give before changing a work schedule?

Written by mary tucker-mclaughlin
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How much notice must an employer give before changing a work schedule?
At-will employees have few rights when it comes to schedules. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

At-will employees may have little or no rights when it comes to employers changing schedules. Employees who are a part of a collective bargaining unit and who are under contract may have more rights depending on the wording in their contracts. Overtime, reduced schedules and shift changes are a regular part of doing business in many organisations.

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Communication between employers and employees is critical to maintain workplace morale. Constantly changing an employee's schedule with little or no notice is not only frustrating to employees, but may cause real problems in their personal lives. Employees who have children are especially affected by schedule changes as they are dependent on child care. To retain and recruit productive employees, employers should strive to communicate schedule changes as soon as possible and also to avoid them unless absolutely necessary.

Shift Changes

Permanent and temporary shift changes are frequent in many organisations, including television news, health care and manufacturing. At-will employees are often at the mercy of their employers during these changes. Contract employees may have clauses in their contracts which require prior notification or which require additional wages for unusual shifts or quick turnaround to work additional shifts. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers may change schedules and reduce hours of at-will employees with no prior notice and no penalty.


Budget cutbacks and downsizing have increased the incidence of furloughs for salaried employees in both the private and public sectors. Although companies may have policies in place concerning notification of furloughs, the government provides many exceptions for use by both private companies and public sector organisations that have a need for an emergency furlough of employees. In the case of a "save money" furlough, most organisations give a 30-day notice of the decision to furlough employees.


The Fair Labor Standards Act does not require employers to give employees prior notice of schedule changes. Organizations that changes employees' schedules regularly without notice are subject to high turnover rates. Employee turnover can cost a company as much as 50 per cent of that position's salary. Constant turnover is an unnecessary expense and can severely damage employee morale. Proper planning, scheduling and effective communication can prevent frequent schedule changes. Effective communication is critical, and managers should talk with employees about which shifts are best for them. Putting employees on a shift that works well for them might be the difference between keeping an employee and losing one.

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