Can the employer change shifts at will?

Your employer changes your working hours to a time that is not convenient for you. He schedules the shifts, you’ve planned the theatre and your son’s birthday party, and suddenly everything is different and you have to go to work. Is it possible to defend yourself in such cases and what is the actual working time arrangement?

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Chapters of the article

The basic rule is that working hours are always set by the employer. The employer determines the start and end of the shift, subject to legal limits such as compulsory breaks and safety at work.

There are four working time patterns:

1. Even working hours

In this case, the working hours are normal. This means that the shifts are the same each week, so that the employee works, for example, from Monday to Friday from 9am to 5:30pm (half an hour counts as a lunch break). It is therefore possible to work 40 hours in one week.

2. Uneven distribution of working time

This is typically a pattern of short and long weeks. Each week the working time is distributed in a different way. The maximum number of hours in a week is therefore not tracked, but the average number of hours over a so-called compensation period. This period can be a maximum of 26 or even 52 weeks. Again, the average working time during this period may not exceed 40 hours in total.

However, the employer cannot require continuous work in one week and offer time off in the other week. Mandatory breaks between shifts and other restrictions must still be observed.

In the case of both even and uneven distribution of working time, the employer must draw up a written weekly working time schedule and communicate it to the employee at least two weeks in advance. The employee must comply with this schedule and there is no right of defence against it.

Tip: Have you ever come across the term “working time pool“? If not, don’t look for anything complicated behind it. You can read what exactly is behind this phrase, how we record working time and what a timesheet looks like in our separate article.

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3. Flexible working hours

Flexible working means that the employee chooses the start and end of their working hours. There are basic working hours, e.g. between 10:00 and 15:00, when the employee is obliged to be at the workplace, but it is up to the employee to come in at seven and leave early or to arrive at ten and spend the early evening at work. In addition, he can combine the two options and, for example, spend only the period from 10:00 to 15:00 at work one day and spend the time from 8:00 to 19:30 at another (the extra half hour counts as a lunch break).

Again, the average weekly working time is calculated here and must be completed at least during the compensation period.

4. Working time account

This means that the employee is required to attend at all times according to the prescribed shift schedule and how long he or she remains at the workplace depends on the employer’s need at the time. If the employee runs out of work to perform, the shift may be terminated, but equally, if another need for work activity arises during the shift, the employee will be called back. It is therefore a system most accommodating to the employer.

Working time accounts can only be introduced by collective agreement or internal regulation. The employer shall determine the compensation period (again, a maximum of 26/52 weeks). The employee is entitled to a fixed salary (at least 80% of average monthly earnings).

Tip: Working hours may not be the first thing employees look at when choosing a job. However, it plays a very important role and every employee should find out in advance how the employer envisages working hours.

According to the Labour Code, the scheduling of employees’ working time is solely in the hands of the employer. Therefore, it is up to the employer to decide whether the working time will be distributed evenly or unevenly, how long the working week will be, what the working regime will be, when the beginning and end of the working shifts will be determined, what will be the continuous rest between shifts and during the week, etc. The method of scheduling working time is usually not agreed in employment contracts. If it is agreed, the employer must comply with it or agree with the employee to change it. Otherwise, the employer may decide to change the timetable itself (including changing from 8-hour shifts to 11-hour shifts).

If the employee works in shifts, the employer is required to establish a written weekly work schedule. This plan must be given to the employee at least 2 weeks in advance, unless both parties agree otherwise. Similarly, if there is a change in the work schedule, the employer must inform the employee and give written notice of the change. The employer is not entitled to change the employee’s work shifts without written consent unless otherwise agreed. Where overtime is necessary, the employer may order, but must comply with, the statutory provisions relating to overtime.

Tip: There are rules associated with the start and end of working hours. Does your employer require you to be at the workplace an hour early or just 15 minutes early? Or do you still have to be at the workplace at the end of your shift and leave a little later? What can the employer allow within the normal working conditions and what is already overtime? And what about the start and end of working hours? This is what we look at in our next article.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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