Work Shift Rescheduling - 3x12 vs. 5x7 - Court Ruling On Employer's And Employee's Rights And Obligations

   Quick Summary: Assuming the issue is not covered by a collective bargaining agreement, the employer retains the right to set hours and work schedules for employees.

   An employee has the right to make his or her individual needs known. If the employer agrees to accommodate the employee’s needs, but then changes the employee’s work schedule to conflict with the employee’s family obligations, the employee is justified in quitting and filing for unemployment compensation, as the employee is not considered to have left voluntarily.  COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA, 1996.


   In this case the employee, a hospital therapeutic dietary clerk, had reached a tacit understanding with her employer over the course of fourteen years working at the hospital, that she would be able to work five seven-hour day shifts on weekdays, with occasional weekend work, and could make childcare and family transportation arrangements around this work schedule.

   For reasons which the Court of Appeals of Indiana did not elaborate upon, the hospital announced this employee would no longer be able to work a five day, seven hours per day work schedule, with an occasional seven-hour day on the weekend, but would have to start working three twelve hour days each week with an occasional thirteen-hour shift on the weekend.

   The employee, according to the court, had no realistic alternative but to leave her employment, because the proposed changes in her shift schedule would create overwhelming and insurmountable pressures on the child care and family transportation arrangements she had made.

   The employee applied for unemployment benefits and was turned down at first. She appealed. An administrative law judge granted her appeal, ruling that under the circumstances the employee had not left her employment voluntarily and should not be disqualified from receiving unemployment on that basis.

   The employer and employee can work out certain aspects of the employment relationship, such as the days and hours that an employee will be working. The employer in this case had tacitly agreed to allow this employee a seven-hour, five-day weekly work schedule. The employee had made arrangements for her family, and had agreed to stay employed with the hospital for a number of years, based on her tacit understanding with the hospital as to her days and hours of work.

   The court upheld the administrative decision to allow this employee to receive unemployment benefits after she terminated her employment at the hospital. The court, however, was not in a position to dictate to the hospital that this particular employee, even though she had been given tacit assurances that her needs would be honored, only to have her employer go back upon those assurances, had a right to continue having her work-schedule requirements met by the hospital after it undertook to revamp its scheduling policies.

   It has long been the accepted legal rule in the U.S., if there is no employment contract or union collective bargaining agreement to spell out how issues of scheduling and job security are to be resolved, that employment relationships are "at will."

   Since at-will employment relationships, by definition, may be altered or terminated at any time, for any reason, by the employer or by the employee, the court would not say this employee was entitled to have the hospital ordered to go back on its decision to change an employee’s working hours and shift assignments. Indianapolis Osteopathic Hospital, Inc. vs. Jones, 669 N.E. 2d 431 (Ind. App., 1996).

Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (4)14 Nov 96