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In Labour News by Pieter25 Comments

Question: May an employer increase or decrease agreed working hours of its employees?

Answer: Agreed working hours may only be increased or decreased by agreement between the parties.

Brief explanation: An employer may not unilaterally change agreed terms or conditions of employment. Increasing or decreasing the agreed total number of hours that an employee is required to work, is a change to conditions of employment and has to be negotiated and agreed. To illustrate by means of an example: You have a person who works for you and you have agreed that s/he only needs to work half day (e.g. 4 hours), four days a week. One cannot later insist that she works a full 45 hours per week for the same pay, simply because the law allows 45 ordinary hours of work per week. One would have to negotiate the change with her, during which availability, increase in pay, etc. are discussed. It would be a different matter, however, if the contract of employment makes provision variation of working hours by the employer.
The fact that the parties have to agree to change conditions of employment does not mean that an employer’s hands are tied if employees refuse to agree to a change. Where it is operationally justified (e.g. shortage of work), the employer can follow the retrenchment process if employees refuse to agree to a reduction of their working hours.
Changing certain work practices (rather than conditions of employment) such as starting times and meal intervals, etc., is another matter – these may be changed after reasonable consultation (agreement is not required).
Note: These snippets of information are based on frequently asked questions and will be circulated to subscribers on a regular basis. Labourwise subscribers are invited to submit questions on matters that they believe would be of general interest to employers.

Disclaimer: The material above is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Neither the author nor the publisher accepts responsibility for any loss or damage that may arise from reliance on information contained in this article.


  1. Can an employer change the shifts of an employee with only 24 hours notice, as in changing the days of work and the starting times, not the amount of hours.
    in the employment contract it is stated that they will be required to work shifts as well as the shifts may change, however, they have been on the same shift for seven months.
    The employees were away a shift change was coming but this was done with no notice of the actual change
    What would be considered a reasonable notice period and how binding is a stated policy of 2 weeks notice period

    1. Unless the starting and finishing times have been specifically agreed in the contract of employment, these times may be changed on reasonable notice (provided the total ordinary hours of work remain unchanged). What notice would be considered to be ‘reasonable’ would depend on several factors, but if the notice period is specified in the contract of employment or company policy, which would make it easier to justify.

  2. Hi, I’m a shift manager and my manager changed my shift from 8hours shift to 12shift and said it is based on operational reequipments, and I’m not paid for those hours

    1. I suggest you first try to resolve the matter through the company’s internal grievance procedure. If that doesn’t lead to a solution, you can approach the Department of Employment and Labour or seek legal advice.

  3. How do I reduced my employee’s hours of work and salary due to our economic climate. i am trying to cut back on expenses.

    1. As mentioned in the article, decreasing the agreed total number of hours that an employee is required to work, is a change to conditions of employment and has to be negotiated and agreed. Where it is operationally justified (e.g. shortage of work), the employer can follow the retrenchment process if employees refuse to agree to a reduction of their working hours.

    2. 1. Should i reduce the employee’s work hours to half day due to restructuring is there any proportionate retrenchment/Severance payment required
      2. If the employee refuse to accept the restructured half day job, is he/she entitled to a full severance/retrenchment package.


      1. Answer 1: No severance pay is due if the employee remains employed. Answer 2: If a refusal of an alternative employment is unreasonable, the employee is not entitled to severance pay; retrenchment after refusing a half day job would in my view not deprive the employee of the right to severance pay, though.

  4. Can employees work more than 45 hours normal time by agreement with the workers.

    1. No, one cannot agree to less favourable conditions than the minima prescribed by law. Any hours beyond 45 hours per week must be regarded as overtime.

  5. I’m a shift worker in a hospital.we work 11 hour now the hospital manager is putting me on a 8 hour shift.wat are my rights pls help8FN8

    1. You would have to check your contract of employment to see if allows for a change to working hours.

  6. I have an employee that’s worked for me for one year. She works 5 hours a day. one day is morning shift 7am to 12am and the following day is 2pm to 7pm. 5 days a week. We do not have a contract. Can I change her shifts to afternoons 2pm to 7pm only and no more morning shift if she does not want to. I have an employee that’s on a very long term sick leave that why I require this change.

    1. Reply to Wilma: You should engage with the employee about changing the shift pattern and try to reach agreement. It is arguable that you can instruct her to work the new pattern if you give her reasonable notice, but the safest would be to follow the retrenchment process if she does not want to agree. We suggest that you seek legal advice in this case if she dose not agree.

  7. Are u allowed to work for 2 to 3 months in a row and not getting time off , while the manager make sure she’s getting off every second Saturday

  8. It is posible that company schedule me less than 40hours while the contract says i must work 40hours.

    1. Reply to Nchaka: If the contract makes allwance for 40 hours (i.e. you may be required to work up to 40 hours), then the employer may reduce your hours. However, if it states that you “must” work for 40 hours, you may possibly have claim for wages for 40 hours even if your employer requires you to work less. One would have to look carefully at the wording and intention of the contract, though.

  9. May an employer change the rule on working time over christmas and New Year. For more than 10 years, the company closes at around 12h00 on the day before christmas and NEw YEar. Some of the retail departments cannot make use of this and must work till 17h00 on the days. Can an employer say from the end of this year everybody will work till 17h00 on the two days?

    1. Dennis, this appears to be a practice rather than part of the agreed terms and conditions of employment. In our view the employer would be entitled to require employees to work a full day prior to Christmas and New Year, as long as the employer consults with employees a reasonable period beforehand and does not leave it until the last moment.

  10. Hi, my hours changed from full day to half day, how do we calculate my pay per month now? I have been working for 6 years full day at the company. Thank you. Adele

    1. The simplest way to arrive at a figure would be to first calculate your hourly rate: Divide your monthly salary by four and one third, divided by the number of normal working days per week (presumably 5 days), divided by the number of hours normally worked per day. Once you have the hourly rate you can calculate new daily rate, followed by the weekly rate and monthly salary by reversing the calculation.

  11. May the Employer in the hospitality sector change the shifts without consulting the Employee

    1. Existing terms and conditions of employment (including working hours) may only be changed by agreement. If the contract of employment is flexible, e.g. that the employee may be required to work in accordance with a weekly shift schedule, then the employer may change the hours within the limitations set by the Sectoral Determination without the agreement of the employees. Prior consultation is always advisable although it may not necessarily be a legal requirement.

  12. May an employer unilaterally change the position and title of an employee , and transfer him/her to another department without his/her consent?

    1. The Employer can change the job title, provided the employee’s status or remuneration is not negatively affected. Whether or not the employee may be moved to another department without his/her consent depends on what work the employee would be required to do in the other department (Is it a significant departure from the current job?) and how flexible the job description is (Does the contract of employment make provision that the job description may change?)

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