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HR tip: Custom and practice – starting time being changed

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These questions are being answered by Learn HR, a market leader in the provision of HR and payroll training and nationally-recognised professional qualifications.


Question:

"Our contracts of employment state that our office hours are 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, but our previous general manager has, for the last three years, allowed everyone to leave at 3pm on Fridays. However, nothing to that effect has ever been put down in writing. Our new general manager now insists that we revert to a 5pm finish on Fridays. Can he do this?"

HR tip:

If everyone goes along with what he says, then indeed your Friday finishing time will revert to 5pm. However, if anyone objects, your general manager will need to realise that he wishes to change what is called custom and practice. This exists if employees are doing something that is not unlawful or obviously bad, have been doing so for a reasonable period such that it has become habitual, and management can be assumed to have been aware of it yet not put a stop to it.

This custom and practice has thus become just as much part of the employment contract as the rate of pay and holiday entitlement and may be removed only with great care and due process. I suggest that, if your general manager is determined to effect the change, he either persuades the employees affected or negotiates the change with them, perhaps as part of the next pay deal.

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