Weekly dilemma: Contracted hours

I am the HR manager at a medium-sized hotel in London. I have discovered that 12 of our employees are working fewer hours than they are required by their contracts of employment. They should work 40 hours per week, but in practice they work 10-hour days on a rolling four days on, four days off basis. This means that sometimes they only work 30 hours per week. The employees have been working this shift pattern for a long time. They should, however, be working four days on, three days off to fulfil their contractual obligations. A number of the employees are members of the union and their representative can be very aggressive. What can I do to rectify the situation?

First, you should speak to the employees to explain that this issue has come to light and that you want to rectify the situation. It’s also probably worth speaking to the union rep at the outset – if he or she understands the issue, they may be less likely to cause a problem later.

If you are prepared to allow the employees to continue working their current shift pattern (because, regardless of the strict contractual position, the arrangement works in practice) but just want to ensure they get paid accordingly, you could consider freezing their salaries, ie not giving them a pay rise at the next pay review in an attempt to bring their salaries in line with their actual working hours.

However, if a change is required for good operational reasons, then consider getting the employees to agree to the changes you want. You could point out to them that it is an express term of their contract that they work 40 hours per week and that, while you are prepared to draw a line under what has happened in the past, you are not prepared to do so going forward. If it is coming up to pay review time, you might be able to get the employees to agree to a change in their working hours by saying that any pay increase is conditional on this.

Ultimately, if the employees are not prepared to agree to the change, you should consider following a fair dismissal procedure, serving notice to dismiss them and offering to re-engage them on the new terms and conditions, ie current pay and 40 hours per week.

Sue Nickson, partner, Hammonds

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