Can my boss reduce my hours at work?

Find out more about what supports might be available to you if your hours at work get cut

Written by spunout


Sometimes an employer will try and reduce your hours at work. This may be because the company is going through a difficult period or for other reasons. You should know that any reduction in your hours is a change of your contract of employment, which means it can’t be done unless both you and your employer have agreed on it. If your hours are cut without your agreement, you will likely have a case against your employer under your rights as a worker.

What should I do if I’m asked to reduce my hours?

It’s important to think very carefully about agreeing to reduce your hours. This will have an impact not only on your pay, but potentially on the taxes you owe, the structure of your schedule and your general life plans. In some cases, where your employer is suffering a downturn in business you may have little choice – their only other option might be to make you redundant. But this doesn’t mean you should be rushed into making any decisions.

If your employer makes a suggestion about cutting your hours, always ask for their proposal in writing so you can go through it either alone or with a trade union representative or other employment expert. If you decide to agree, hand in your answer in writing and make sure you are clear that you’re only accepting on a temporary basis. You and your employer should formally agree a review date some point in the future. At this time, if business has improved, you should ask to be restored to your original hours.

You should also make sure that your new hours are at times you are actually available to work. You don’t want to get caught out if, say, you can’t move your childcare arrangements to match your new hours.

What if I don’t agree to my hours being reduced?

If you don’t agree to reduce your hours, for whatever reason, then there are a number of things you can do based on what your employer does.

You can make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission or, if your employer refuses to allow this, to the Labour Court. If you feel your contract has been broken you may also take a case through the civil courts.

If you lose your job after not agreeing to change your hours, you may be able to bring a case for unfair dismissal (in this case, if your employer can’t prove they genuinely needed to fire you you may be reinstated or compensated).

If your hours are cut despite you not agreeing to it, you may take a case for constructive dismissal. This is where you resign due to your employer breaking the terms of your contract. However, this is a complex legal situation to be in so you should research carefully before taking this course of action.

What extra supports can I get?

If your hours are reduced below a certain level, you may be entitled to support from the state. If you become effectively unemployed for at least four days a week, you may be entitled to a social welfare jobseeker’s payment to top up your work income. If you’ve made enough PRSI contributions you may get Jobseeker’s Benefit, though your hours will have to have fallen by at least one full day. If you’ve been brought down to less than three days’ work, you might be able to get Jobseeker’s Allowance following a means test. You should also look into the possibility of Family Income Supplement if you’re supporting children and your hours have been significantly reduced.

Lay-offs and short-time work

Rather than cutting your hours, your employer might lay you off or put you on short time for a few weeks. A lay-off is where your employer is temporarily unable to provide work for you. Short-time is when your hours are less than half the normal weekly amount. Both situations have to be temporary and your employer has to warn you before they start. You can’t be laid off or put on short-time without your consent unless it’s in your contract or is the custom and practice in your workplace.

If a lay-off or short-term situation lasts for more than four weeks, or for six weeks out of the last 13, you will be entitled to claim a redundancy lump sum. Claiming this sum means you have left your job. If a lay-off or short-term situation continues for so long that it’s no longer temporary your employer may convert it into a redundancy. If you don’t agree to this, you can lodge a complaint with the Workplace Relations Commission

Need more information?

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