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Resource Center / Employment Laws

Important Laws on Changing Employee Work Schedules

When making changes to work schedules, it’s important to inform employees while staying compliant. Read on to learn the laws around changing work schedules.

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May 26, 20225 minutes

As an employer, you try your best to set an optimal work schedule for your employees and give them notice in advance if it changes. However, things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes you’ll need to make changes to work schedules after you have made them, so it’s important to know how to do that while staying in compliance with the law.

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Let’s take a look at the laws on changing employee work schedules and what business owners need to know.

The FLSA Permits Changing Employee Work Schedules

The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act states that, in most cases, an employer is allowed to change the work schedule of anyone over 16 years of age without prior notice or consent. In other words, as long as you are supplying the employee with the contracted amount of hours, you can ask them to work whenever you need them to.

You can ask employees who are exempt from overtime to work as many hours as you want, without increasing their pay. For your employees who are non-exempt from overtime law, you must pay them overtime when they work more than 40 hours per week. Overtime laws vary depending on your state, however, so make sure that you are complying correctly with the law that pertains to your particular location.

You can ask employees who are exempt from overtime to work as many hours as you want, without increasing their pay.

Of course, the above doesn’t apply if the employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. If your employees are part of a union, advance notification of shifts is likely part of the contract between the union and the employer, so make sure you research this first before proceeding!

State Laws Differ Across the U.S.

So, the FLSA says it’s okay to change employee schedules at the last minute? While that might be the case, you should also check with your state. The laws about changing work schedules differ depending on what state you are located in, so that is something important to keep in mind. Remember, when it comes to employment law, the general rule is if the state law grants more rights to the employee, it takes precedence over the federal law.

For example, if you are an employer in the state of California you are subject to the California Labor Code, which has its own requirements about the notice that employers need to give their staff when changing their work schedule.

Another example would be if you own a restaurant or retail shop with more than 56 employees in San Jose, Emeryville or San Francisco, you’ll need to give at least two weeks’ notice to your employees about their shifts. If the schedule is changed less than seven days in advance, you must pay your employees increased wages. Here’s more information about predictive scheduling laws and how they work.

If you are located in Oregon, the rules are different. The Fair Workweek Act in Oregon requires that employers give their employees at least seven days' notice of their scheduled shifts. This means that once you set the schedule, you can’t change shifts unless you give at least a week’s notice.

It’s important to know how the local laws affect your business and what is legal in your particular state.

In Washington DC, you must provide at least 21 days’ advance notice when changing employee work schedules, thanks to the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act of 2015.

There are also some specific laws on this in Seattle, passed by the Seattle City Council in 2016. If an employer makes changes to the written work schedule, they must provide 14 days' notice in person by telephone call, email, or text message. Also, the employee is allowed to decline to work any hours that are not included in the employee’s work schedule.

In contrast, the labor laws in Texas follow the “At-Will” employment doctrine and employers have the right to change an employee’s schedule with or without notice — even at the last minute. Many states subscribe to this type of law, which means that there is no obligation on the part of the employer to notify employees about shift changes.

So, it’s important to know how the local laws affect your business and what is legal in your particular state. It’s also crucial to keep up to date on these laws, as they can change and new bills can be passed at any time. It helps to use a time tracking app that will automatically ensure you are compliant with your local employment laws.

Why You Should Inform Employees About Shift Changes

If your state doesn’t require you to give employees notice about shift changes, then you can change the schedule as much as you want and it doesn’t matter, right?

Well, not exactly. While doing this might not have legal repercussions, it can seriously bring down the motivation and morale of your team.

If you do change the schedule, it’s helpful to notify your employees as soon as possible so that they can adjust their plans accordingly. You can do this via a work schedule change notice letter, or by using time tracking software that sends a notification of a shift change.

Even if your particular state doesn’t require you to do so legally, it is still a good practice for improving employee relations.

Even if your particular state doesn’t require you to do so legally, it is still a good practice for improving employee relations. Remember, your employees will have other arrangements outside of work and, when their shifts change at the last minute, they might struggle to find childcare, miss out on classes or activities, or have to cancel their plans.

When you fail to give your employees proper notice of a schedule change at work, it can be extremely disruptive to their lives — especially if they have to support a family, if they are working more than one job, or if they are going to school. It can make your employees feel stressed out, which significantly decreases their performance on the job.

The best performing businesses are those that have high worker morale and good communication between the employer and the team. Even if you’re not in a state that requires it by law, do your best to keep last-minute shift changes to a minimum and inform your team as soon as possible when changing employee work schedules. It sends them the message that they are valuable to you and you respect their time.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.