Abrupt scheduling changes at work may be irritating but they are legal. There is little you can do about it if your boss suddenly switches your shifts or asks you to adopt new hours.
American employment is governed by the Fair Labor Standards Act. That act has no scheduling provisions, except in connection with child labor. The FLSA does not provide a minimum notice period for changes and your employer can change your schedule without talking to you about it.
From the Department of Labor
According to the Department of Labor, "an employer may change an employee's work hours without giving prior notice or obtaining the employee's consent (unless otherwise subject to a prior agreement between the employer and employee or the employee's representative)."
Given the above, there is not too much you can do if your boss switches your shifts. You will have to make arrangements to show up at the new time or you may find yourself without the job.
Little Legal Recourse
Theoretically you should be able to talk to your employer and work out something that works for everyone. But realistically those Americans who are "employees" -- as opposed to contractors -- work at-will. That means that your employer can let you go for any reason or no reason or because you won't adjust to a new schedule.
What About Contract Workers?
Contract work is on the rise in the US. So much so that in July, the Department of Labor issued a 15-page statement providing guidance on correct worker classification. When it comes to scheduling, contingent workers, or contractors, are meant to be free agents who employ themselves.
Independent scheduling is supposed to be an essential element of contractor classification and it is one of the criteria that courts will look at to determine if a worker is a contractor or employee. Realistically, however, contractors often find themselves in the same bind as employees -- working when management desires -- without any of the legal protections available to an employee.
A Practical Approach
Whether you are an employee or contractor, you should show up for work when the boss wants or you can expect to face consequences. If you absolutely cannot adjust to the new conditions, try to talk to your manager about your situation.
If that fails or is a risk in and of itself, then consider trying to coordinate with a fellow worker. Maybe someone is willing to trade shifts.
Whatever you do, keep in mind that the law is on the employer's side in this context. As a worker, you will have to find a way to make the change work or find new work.
If you are having problems at work, however, do speak to an employment attorney. There may be bases for a claim that are unrelated to schedule changes, and talking to a lawyer will help you sort out your options.
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