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Are you allowed to refuse to have your shift changed from days to nights, without risk of being fired?

Friday May 4, 2012
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Question:

Dear Nancy,

My employer just forced my co-worker to change her work hours from a day to a night shift. She was given a week's notice to prepare for this change. She was hired for days and has worked there for more than 10 years. Is she allowed to refuse without risk of being fired?

Wilma



Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Wilma,

Generally, an employee is hired to work at a particular facility and not necessarily on a particular unit, floor or shift. As a result, employers are free to change conditions of employment as they see fit. One way this is done for employees-at-will is to have a disclaimer in the employee handbook that clearly states changes can be made by the employer as necessary and there is no contract of employment or employment conditions, express or implied.

Unfortunately, longevity has no bearing on changes in employment conditions. Loyalty in a position or at a place of employment is rarely acknowledged in the type of situation you present in your question.

One choice your co-worker has is to try and reverse the decision that was made. It may be, for example, that she is a single parent and needs someone to be home at night with her children. Other real, factual life situations also may help present a good argument in this regard. However, if a reversal is not made, the only choice is to look for work elsewhere. A flat-out refusal to work the night shift probably will not work and may result in termination.

If your co-worker believes the employer is making this change for some type of discriminatory motive — e.g., her gender or race — or if the change is due to some sort of retaliation against her by the employer, a consultation with a nurse attorney or attorney would be a good idea.

Cordially,
Nancy




Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.