Can my employer change my hours?

Q:  My employer has continued to remain profitable thankfully.  We all have jobs despite seeing many jobs go away in 2020 and 2021.  I have a question though.  As we return to the workplace, slowly and safely, our employer is asking us to work unusual hours to ensure social distancing.  When I was hired four years ago, I signed an offer letter agreeing to certain hours.  I have been treated well and receive several raises.  Can my employer unilaterally change my hours?  Please let me know.  In so many ways, I am grateful for still having a job. But new office hours are really a hardship.

A:  I am happy to hear that your employer has not been negatively impacted by the pandemic.  Employers are struggling with how to maintain their internal operations.  Some are offering remote work options, but others are slowly asking employees to return to the workplace.  As of this writing, office spaces cannot exceed 25% of capacity. Your employer is likely trying to balance safety and social distancing with resuming some semblance of normalcy.  That is a difficult challenge.

Generally, employers can modify many of the conditions related to an employee’s role.  An employer often changes benefits and compensation.  An employer could also change your office location, reporting relationship or even your hours.  If all remained consistent from your original offer of employment letter, you would not have received the compensation increases that you mentioned!   Unless you are covered under a collective bargaining agreement and/or an employment contract, in most instances, an employer can modify your hours.

I would suggest that you listen to your employer’s request and try to work out a schedule that might be amenable to both you and your employer.  My guess is that this schedule would be temporary.  Many of us expect offices to slowly return to normal, as the vaccine becomes more widely available.  It sounds like your employer is trying to do the right thing.  I would at least listen to the options available.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.