With the rise of flexible working, working arrangements such as staggered hours can benefit both the employer and the employee.
In this guide, we explain what is meant by staggered hours and the legal and HR issues facing employers when implementing this strategy or dealing with requests for staggered hours from employees.
What are staggered working hours?
Working flexibly can take several forms, including working from home, job sharing, and working fewer or compressed hours.
Staggered hours are another type of flexible working. It refers to an arrangement where individuals have different start and finish times than other employees. In other words, employees will begin and end their shifts at the same location, working a given amount of hours but these will be at different times throughout the day.
Staggered hours are not to be confused with flexitime, whereby an employee is assigned core working hours during which they must work, such as 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but is given some flexibility, often a 2-hour window when they can start or finish work, such as 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Post-pandemic, the implementation of different start and finish times for employees may prove helpful for easing congestion on public transport and traffic during peak hours. This will also minimise the problem of large groups of people arriving and leaving the workplace at the beginning and end of the day. In addition, staggering employees’ lunch breaks can help prevent large groups from gathering in rest areas or in queues at local shops or lunch providers.
How do staggered hours work in practice?
In most cases, staggered working hours mean establishing a predetermined variation from the typical 9 to 5, or 8.30am to 5.30pm, working day.
Adopting staggered work hours means establishing a framework in which employees or groups of employees can begin and end their shifts at different times.
Employers will want to strike a balance to allow the individual some flexibility while ensuring the requirements of the job are still being met. This typically means developing a system which can provide workers some leeway in setting these times, but only within certain parameters and on the understanding that the employee completes their obligations satisfactorily within the agreed set hours or shift.
Once set the staggered hours are agreed and set, these times should become part of the employment contract terms and should not change without undertaking a contract variation process.
How to adopt staggered hours
Adopting staggered hours, like any other form of flexible working, requires agreement between the employer and the worker, and for the emplpyment contract terms to be changed accordingly.
Where the employee is making the request, they can do so informally or by making a statutory flexible wokring request application if they are eligible.
Employers have to consider flexible working request, but are not under an obligation to accept them if they can provide sound business reasons for their decision.
If you as an employer are looking to introduce staggered working by changing existing workers’ employment terms, you should consult with the affected worker(s). You should be clear as the reasons for the proposed changes, including the expected duration of the adjustments and the benefits to the workforce.
In cases when either the employee agrees to the change or the employee’s representatives consent to the change, such as a trade union, you can amend the terms and conditions of a contract of employment, including start and finish timings.
It’s important to listen to employee feedback and discuss and address any individual concerns.
In some situations, the employment contract may include a flexibility clause that allows the employer to make unilateral modifications, such as changing someone’s working hours. However, this approach risks creating a dispute with the individual if they feel the changes have been imposed on them. Also, any adjustments you make must be reasonable and must not discriminate against specific persons or groups of individuals. As a result, negotiating an employee’s consent is always preferable to forcing different schedules.
Once in place, you should put measures in place to monitor how the usage of staggered hours is functioning, as well as provide continuing support for your employees who have had their working hours changed.
Individual employees who work at various hours should normally have the same statutory and contractual rights. They will generally be undertaking the same work over the same number of hours, so this should not affect their employment rights and entitlements. That said, you must not overlook the rules governing working hours and rest breaks when making any changes to an employee’s start and finish times, even if only temporarily.
What should be included in any staggered hours checklist?
When considering staggered hours as a form of flexible working, you should identify the employee’s individual needs and factor these into your decision-making process. This means consideration must be given to the following issues:
- What are the reasons for requesting staggered hours?
- What is the proposed staggered hours schedule?
- What is the requested duration, and is this temporary or permanent?
- What existing criteria does your company or organisation have in place for permitting staggered hours?
- Does the employee fulfil these criteria, for example, length of service, performance ranking, job role, etc
- Having regard to the individual circumstances of the employee, for example, where either they, or someone in their household, is classed as clinically vulnerable, should these criteria be disregarded?
You will of course also need to consider the needs of your business, where the following issues should be taken into account:
- Can the job be done effectively within the proposed schedule, for example, the employee’s ability to get the job done outside any core hours?
- Does the employee demonstrate the necessary skills, ability and experience to do the job under the proposed staggered hours?
- What operational issues would the proposed schedule present to customers, co-workers and managers, and can these issues be overcome?
- What criteria will be used to monitor and measure performance, where managers should evaluate all staff based on similar standards?
- What review processes will be used to evaluate the arrangement?
Thirdly, regard should be had to the administration and logistics of allowing staggered hours, including:
- Does your company and organisation have a system to track employees working under a staggered hours system?
- Are there any security concerns in respect of access to or use of proprietary information and documents outside core working hours, and can these issues be overcome?
- Are there any security or safety concerns in respect of access to or use of the workplace premises or equipment outside core working hours, and can these issues be overcome?
- Has a cost-benefit analysis been carried out and what is the outcome of this analysis?
Is there a legal right to work staggered hours?
Even if your company does not intend to implement a system of staggered hours for its employees, any employee who has worked for your company for at least 26 weeks is legally entitled to make a statutory request to start and finish work at different times, or any other form of flexible working that suits their needs.
This does not however equate to an automatic right to work staggered hours. While employers are obliged to consider the flexible working request, they do not have to agree to the proposed changes. This means you should give any such request due consideration and only decline this type of agreement if there is a compelling business reason to do so.
The following are possible reasons for refusing a request for staggered hours:
- The change would result in additional costs that would be detrimental to the organisation
- During busier periods, it would not be possible to reorganise the work among other employees.
- During peak periods, other workers cannot be hired to undertake the work.
- Quality and performance will suffer as a result of this type of flexible working.
- The organisation will be unable to meet customer demands.
- There isn’t enough work to go around during the proposed working hours.
- The organisation is planning for other workforce changes.
How to handle a request for staggered hours
Much will depend on your organisation’s economic and operational needs when evaluating a request from an employee to work staggered hours.
This means that as part of the flexible working request process, you should carefully consider the benefits and drawbacks of the proposed arrangement, as well as potential negative consequences for your company.
If there are any potential obstacles to enabling this type of working arrangement, you should organise a meeting with the employee to discuss the request in detail and provide an appeals mechanism if the decision is not in their favour.
Refusing a request for staggered hours
If you disregard, mishandle, or unfairly decline a request for staggered hours, you may face a grievance, which could in turn escalate into an employment tribunal claim, with damages awards of up to eight weeks’ wages.
Furthermore, any failure to accept flexible working arrangements in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic may result in forced resignations and constructive dismissal or health and safety unfair dismissal claims. For example, employees concerned about exposing vulnerable relatives to the virus might wish to use staggered hours to prevent social contact with coworkers or travel to work at peak times.
Key considerations for employers
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, staggered hours were popular in the retail and hospitality industries to ensure that employees were available to cover long opening hours for shops, bars, and other such establishments.
This type of flexible working arrangement is now becoming increasingly popular across other industry sectors, as employers and workers look to minimise social contact and avoid peak commuter periods.
However, there are a number of factors and practical constraints to consider for employers when implementing staggered hours, including clocking in hours and reporting protocols, requiring a certain level of control depending on your organisation’s standards.
It’s also crucial to determine any potential negative effects of employees working staggered hours on coworkers and management, as well as strategies for overcoming these obstacles.
This type of working arrangement can also often result in additional pressure and administrative demand on management to maintain a more complex matrix of which workers are working at which times.
You will need to conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment in consultation with your employees or trade unions, sharing the results of this assessment with the workforce and encouraging an exchange of ideas as to how health and safety within the workplace can be managed moving forward across the working day and accounting for all shift patterns. Specific guidance here may need to be followed depending on your industry sector.
DavidsonMorris’ HR specialists and employment lawyers can help with all aspects of workforce management and planning, including adopting flexible working practices such as staggered hours. We provide comprehensive advice on the options open to you as an employer and practical support through the implementation and employee engagement process to ensure legal risks are minimised when varying contractual terms. For help and advice, speak to our experts.
Staggered hours FAQs
What are staggered hours?
Staggered hours allow you to start and finish your working days at different times.
Can an employer make someone work staggered hours?
Employers should consult with employees before making changes to working arrangements and contract terms. If there is a flexibility clause in the employment contract allowing the employer to make changes without the employee's consent, this can lead to complaints if the employee feels aggrieved at the changes imposed on them.
Last updated: 14 November 2021