Your work schedule, in large part, dictates the rest of your schedule. For example, working parents need advance notice of their work shifts in a given workweek so they can arrange childcare. Workers who rely on public transportation need to know their scheduled hours of work so they can coordinate their travel and ensure they make it to work on time.
Having a reliable schedule—where you know when you’re expected to be at work and for how long—is important. But last-minute schedule changes can throw a wrench in your plans—and leave you scrambling to change the rest of your schedule to accommodate your new work hours.
But the question is—what are the scheduling laws around these last minute changes? Can your employers make changes to your work schedule without prior notice (including at the very last minute)—or do they need to give you advance notice that they’re shifting your hours?
Can an employer change an employee’s schedule or work hours at the last minute?
The best way to look at the issue is to break it down into two parts.
First—can your employer change your schedule? In most cases, yes.
Federal employment laws—most notably the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)—allow for a number of employer changes, including changing the employee’s schedule. According to the Department of Labor, “an employer may change an employee’s work hours without giving prior notice or obtaining the employee’s consent (unless otherwise subject to a prior agreement between the employer and employee or the employee’s representative).”
That means unless you have an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement in place that explicitly states your employer cannot make changes to your schedule, they can switch your work shifts, change your work hours, or make other scheduling changes at will.
But the second part of the equation—can your employer change your schedule last minute?
Some states have predictive scheduling laws that require the employer to give the employee advance notice of any schedule changes. For example, in Oregon, employers have to give their employees at least seven days advance notice of any changes to their schedule. In Washington, D.C., that increases to 21 days. And in certain parts of California, if you change an employee’s schedule with less than seven days notice, you’ll need to increase your employee’s regular rate of pay for the rescheduled shifts.
But there are also plenty of states that don’t have predictive scheduling laws in place, and if you live in one of those states, from a legal standpoint, your employer has the right to change your schedule whenever they want to—including at the last minute.
When can your employer not change your schedule?
That being said, there are certain instances where your employer legally can’t change your schedule—last minute or otherwise.
Some of the situations where employers are unauthorized to change your schedule include:
- FMLA leave. If you’re on a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (more commonly known as an FMLA leave), your employer must provide the same working conditions upon your return—including employee scheduling. If you are scheduled for certain shifts or work hours, your employer can’t change or reduce those shifts or hours because of, or during, your leave.
- It conflicts with local law, state law, or federal law. Your employer must abide by all relevant labor laws, including at the local, state, and federal level. If there’s a law in your area that prohibits your employer from changing your schedule at the last minute, they’re bound to abide by said law.
- Industry limitations. There are certain industries that prohibit employers from making certain changes to employee schedules. For example, in the health care industry, practitioners (like doctors or nurses) can only legally work a certain number of hours—and employers can’t schedule them for any additional shifts above that threshold.
- Scheduling additional hours without adequate compensation. If you’re a part-time or a non-exempt full-time worker, your employer is subject to overtime laws—and the employer can’t change your schedule to add extra hours unless they compensate you in accordance with those overtime laws.
What to do if your employer keeps changing your schedule last minute
As mentioned, in many situations, your employer has the right to change your schedule at the last minute. But if your work schedule is consistently getting changed without prior notice—and it’s wreaking havoc on your life schedule—there are steps you can take to mitigate the issue.
- Talk to your boss. If you have a positive relationship with your supervisor or the owner of your company, have a conversation with them about the last minute scheduling changes. Let them know that changing your work shifts without advance notice makes it difficult for you to schedule other priorities in your life. See if there’s a way you can work together so that you’re flexible with your scheduling—but your employer still gives you enough notice of any shift changes so you can plan accordingly.
- Bring the issue to HR. If your employer is constantly changing schedules at the last minute, it’s an employee relations issue—both for you and your co-workers. Schedule a meeting with human resources to discuss the issue and see if there’s anything they can do to create a more consistent scheduling process.
- Seek legal advice. If you suspect your employer’s schedule changes are in violation of any labor laws, you may want to talk to a legal professional. They can help you determine whether any scheduling laws are being broken—and, if they are, what legal action you can take to stop the last minute changes (and gain more consistency in your schedule).
Stay informed about your rights surrounding last minute scheduling changes
Last minute scheduling changes can throw a wrench in your plans—and the truth of the matter is, when it comes to scheduling changes, employers often have the power to make changes at will.
But as an employee, it’s important to stay informed of your rights. Do the research on your state’s labor laws, figure out how and when your employer can (and can’t) change your schedule, and make sure that any last-minute scheduling changes your employer throws your way are in accordance with those laws.