Employers – is it a good idea to reduce locum hours after an assignment has started?

Sometimes, and it is a fairly rare occurrence, we get a law firm who go through the whole process of finding, interviewing and accepting a locum to work for them, usually fairly long term, and everything looks good. The locum goes through the whole process of booking themselves out for a period of time, providing all their documentation, dealing with all the various queries and issues and starting work.

On the first day of work the firm welcome the locum with open arms, but after an hour or so inform them that there’s been a change of plan and rather than them working 9:30am to 5:30pm they will instead be working 10:00am until 4:00pm. This is usually because someone in the management team has worked out that if they cut one or two hours a day they will save the firm money each week.

This sounds great for the firm and you would imagine that the locum would be delighted as well because they will be working less hours and have more time to spend on other things. Nothing could usually be further from the truth. Very often the locum will be quite annoyed, whether or not the changed hours suit them. You can almost guarantee that within a matter of weeks the locum will be thinking about assignments to move on to. All because someone in the management team has decided they can save themselves a bit of money simply by cutting the hours of the locum without telling them first.

So is it a good idea to unilaterally cut locum hours?

No, absolutely not. Any firm who do this almost immediately label themselves as a problem to the locum and damage their relationship.

Locum = B2B Relationship

Unilaterally changing hours of locums is an extremely bad idea and never goes well. Locums see it as arrogance on the part of the firm, that they think they can treat them like this but not taking into account that a locum is self-employed and in control of their own circumstances (one of the many reasons lawyers turn to locuming). If locums don’t like a firm or the assignment they will simply leave and find another one.

If you consult with the locum, advise them after a short or medium period of time that circumstances have changed and you don’t actually need a locum for a full day but instead just need them for a bit of a day and ask them for their thoughts on it, this may all have a different response.

You may find that the locum is quite pleased and says, “No problem at all, I’ll source work for the other time when I’m not needed at your practice,” or is pleased that they can avoid the rush hour at the start and finish of the day, or simply that they would rather just work less hours if at all possible. It just has to be done very carefully and with an eye on the needs of the locum as well as on your firm.

Do not expect a locum to be happy about a reduction in hours if you notify them of it on their first or second day. Just think about the time you have spent recruiting a locum and how long it is going to take you to find another one when your current locum is so annoyed with you that they simply leave and find another assignment. It is really important to look after your relationship with a locum because you just never know how long you’re going to need them for, or how hard it is going to be to find someone else to replace them.

So if you have a locum working with you and you are thinking about reducing the hours, please speak to the locum and tell them your thoughts and ask for their opinion on it. You may be pleasantly surprised and find that the locum is quite happy with you changing the hours; similarly the locum might have another suggestion for you which works just as well for your practice and avoids any awkwardness.