Career Advice

Can An Employer Change Your Schedule Last Minute?

You’ve planned your week meticulously, but then your employer changes your schedule at the last minute. This sudden shift can disrupt your personal life and create stress.

The frustration is real. You’re left scrambling to rearrange your commitments, childcare, or even education. It feels like your employer doesn’t respect your time and personal life.

Based on the more recent data, more than 76 million US-based employees are paid hourly, not on a salary basis. That means that about one-fourth of all citizens of all ages fall under hourly-wages laws. So, many of them will face the same situation.

But can an employer change your schedule last minute legally? In this article, we’ll explore the complexities of employment law, your rights as an employee, and what steps you can take if you find yourself in this challenging situation.

can an employer change your schedule last minute

First, Let’s Get to The Fact

The obvious mental response people have when they get hit with a surprise schedule change is, “Can they do that?” In other words, “Can an employer change your schedule last minute, without notice, whenever they feel like it?” The short answer is, “Yes, usually company representatives, like department managers, HR people, and lower-level supervisors, can change a schedule last minute with little or no advance notice with exceptions mentioned below.”

Why Can They Do It?
The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) allows employers to make such schedule changes without the consent of the worker or giving advance warning. The exceptions are if you have a labor union agreement or if there’s an employee policy in place that prohibits schedule changes.

But What About “Last Minute” Changes?
Some states and municipal jurisdictions have “advance notice” rules in effect based upon a set of predictive scheduling laws. In places like San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, the state of Oregon, and New York City, employers must give workers between 72 hours and 14 days’ notice before changing their schedules.

Related Article: Can An Employer Cut Your Hours To Make You Quit?

How To Respond To A Last Minute Schedule Change

Use a three-tiered strategy:

-First, check the company handbook and any labor contracts that are in force to find out about things like advance notice, how to change your schedule, and how to respond to a last-minute schedule change.

-Second, approach your supervisor and try to resolve the dispute in a friendly fashion. Be sure to state the facts about company or labor union rules if and only if there are any that apply. In most cases, there are none, so you’ll need a good measure of diplomacy to explain why you need to have more notice in the future.

-Third, contact an HR (human resources) rep or an attorney if the situation is dire and you have no other recourse. If a boss refuses to relent, some people are forced into this position, or else they just quit. Can an employer force you to change your availability in the absence of a labor contract or company guideline? Only if they are not running afoul of the state’s predictive scheduling laws.

What Other Things Can You Do?

In fact, all laws regarding things like minimum wages, work conditions, and overtime pay are controlled by the US Department of Labor. If you ever have a general question about your employment contract, predictive scheduling laws, and similar job-related issues, the wisest move you can make is to take one or more of the following actions:

  • Consult the US Dept. of Labor website and search the database for any information you need.
  • Speak with your union/labor representative if there is an in-place collective bargaining agreement that covers potential legal questions, like “Can an employer change your schedule last minute?” and “Can an employer force you to change your availability?”
  • Check with your state labor office to see about specific rules that pertain to local scheduling laws and employment contract regulations specific to where you live and work.
  • Consult an employment lawyer who can help you wade through the potentially deep quagmires of labor laws and hour rights if you need to sue your company. Pro tip: filing a lawsuit is a last resort. In general, far better alternatives are to come to an agreement with your boss when you’re unsure about the question, “How much notice does an employer have to give for a schedule change?”
  • Find another job: This, again, is a sort of last-resort type solution. There’s usually no good reason to have to change jobs just because of a scheduling dispute.
can an employer change your schedule last minute

If you have a one-time or ongoing problem with a supervisor who changes your schedule, there are several ways to deal with the challenge, as noted above. Consider the following details about approaches that can resolve the situation as amicably and quickly as possible.

Don’t Assume Your Employer Is Right

Many honest, hard-working individuals who aren’t familiar with labor law aren’t sure what to do when they have questions like, “Can an employer change your schedule last minute?” and “If I’m not scheduled to work, do I have to come in?”.

People tend to assume that their company knows the law and is always going to do what is right. That’s NOT true. Every year, corporations, medium-sized businesses, and small firms lose court battles against workers, cities, and labor unions that sue them on behalf of workers.

Recently, Chipotle faced a major lawsuit from the City of New York based on a single issue: unfair scheduling. Never assume you are in the wrong or “don’t stand a chance” in the face of unfair labor practices. Take action when necessary, and be willing to hire a lawyer to protect your job security and right to a fair scheduling situation.

Red Flags To Watch Out For

Labor law can be tricky and difficult to understand. If you are ever asked or told that your schedule has been changed, look for the obvious warning signs that your employer is not abiding by the rules. What are they? Here’s a synopsis of what should alert you to a situation that might not get resolved with a handshake and a smile.

  • You go to meet your boss to discuss the schedule change, and he/she is holding a hard copy of the company manual. That’s a clue that you didn’t do your homework, and there’s likely a loophole in the guidelines that says something like, “All employees, upon hiring, agree to abide by all schedule changes if given 48 hours or more notice.” That’s just hypothetical, but many manuals contain such phrases, and they’re usually a win for the employer.
  • During onboarding, you notice a long, small-print document labeled “Arbitration Agreement.” If you don’t sign it, you won’t be hired in most cases. Some companies are not sticklers about it if you object. But you’ll never know unless you ask. ALWAYS pause before signing an arbitration contract.

    Ask if you can opt-out and still begin work. If they tell you no, “You must sign it, or you can’t work here,” then weigh the pros and cons before putting pen to paper. Let them know you don’t want to sign but would like a day to think it over. Sometimes, they’ll cave and say, “Aw, you don’t have to unless you want to.”
  • Some employers are sneaky. A few months after you’re hired, they’ll send around a “voluntary” document for you to sign about arbitration. Many people sign it without thinking. After you are an employee, it’s still lawful for an employer to foist a new arbitration agreement on you as a condition of continued employment. According to a recent decision by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, employers can require your signature on such an agreement as a condition of hiring or continued employment.

    Ask specifically, “What happens if I don’t want to sign this document?” If they say, “Then you are fired,” you should strongly consider consulting an employment attorney.
  • There’s a company-wide announcement about a “special project” that will require “all hands on deck” in order to complete it by a designated deadline. Get ready for schedule changes if you ever see these kinds of notices in your inbox from a supervisor or HR manager.
  • A labor union of which you are a member wants you to support an initiative they have for a new “Fair Work” provision that relates to scheduling. While it’s good news to have a union on your side in most situations, the request is a signal that there is no CURRENT agreement in place with regard to scheduling. That means you are susceptible to last-minute changes until the union successfully negotiates the new contract, which could take months.

The Final Question

Don’t get lost in the weeds if you find yourself asking, “Can an employer change your schedule last minute?” Realize you are not alone. There are thousands of suits filed annually in the US. However, be aware that about half of all US-based hourly workers cannot sue their employers. That’s because so many companies use mandatory arbitration agreements to resolve disputes over things like hours, vacation time, overtime pay, etc.

Check to see whether you signed an arbitration agreement when you were hired. A large percentage of people sign the documents on their first work day, totally unaware of what all the legal mumbo-jumbo and fine print mean. The onboarding process can be dizzying at any company, with new hires having to sign dozens of releases, permissions, attestations, and other official papers.

It’s understandable that probably 99% of folks have no recollection of having signed an arbitration contract. If that sounds like you, call the HR department and find out if there is such an agreement in your onboarding folder.

About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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