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Employment Rights for Night Workers

This guide explains employment rules on night working hours in the United Kingdom. Check out some exceptions to night working limits and how health assessments work.

Night Shift Worker Hours and Limits

Being classed as a night worker means you have extra legal protection. Even so, some exceptions may apply.

The Definition of a Night Worker

As a rule, a night worker would be someone who works at least three (3) hours during the ‘night time’ period – on a regular basis.

UK night working hours run from 11 pm (23:00) to 6 am (06:00) for the standard night period. Exceptions apply if workers and employers agree a different period for ‘night time’.

Even so, any changed period must be at least seven (7) hours long and it must include midnight (24:00) to 5 am (05:00). Employers and their employees must agree to any changes in the night period in writing.

Note: Having a collective agreement might mean staff get classed as night workers. For example, a trade union agreement might state it as night work.

UK National Minimum Wage

The current National Minimum Wage rates apply to all night workers. But, the NMW does not have a higher rate for night shift workers.

In some cases, employers will reward night staff for working through antisocial hours. Typical examples include extra pay, free food, or free transport. But, an employment contract must state these rewards to have any legal right to get them.

In some cases, a sleep shift also counts as working hours during the night period (e.g. by a care worker). But, to count as night time working hours, the worker must be on call and located in the workplace.

Note: All night time workers must get paid the National Minimum Wage during the hours of their sleep shift.

Night Worker Limits on Working Hours

Employment rules on the maximum weekly working hours apply to night workers – as do rest breaks. But, extra rules on night worker limits also apply to the number of hours worked. As a night worker, you must not work more than an average of eight (8) hours in a 24-hour period.

As a rule, the average gets calculated over a period of seventeen (17) weeks. Even so, it can also get worked out over a longer period – up to 52 weeks. In this case, the employer and the worker must agree to it (e.g. collective agreement).

The average should include any regular overtime worked but exclude any occasional overtime. Unlike the 48 hour work week, there is no option for workers to opt out of the night worker limit.

Dealing with Special Hazards and Strain (mental or physical)

Extra rules relate to night workers who deal with certain types of special hazards. The same applies if the work involves physical or mental strain. In these cases, they cannot work longer than eight (8) hours in any given 24-hour period.

Employers must carry out a risk assessment to help identify any special hazards. The workplace health and safety processes should reveal any work that involves mental or physical strain.

Note: Employers can also use collective or workforce agreements to set out special hazards and strains.

Employer Responsibilities for Night Workers

Employers have a responsibility to keep proper records for any night workers that they employ. You would need to keep the records on file for at least two (2) years. The records of working hours should be able to show the night shift workers are not exceeding the limits.

Note: Employers must not discriminate against a someone if they choose not to work night shifts. You can also contact Acas for further information on night shift workers rights.

Night Time Restrictions for Workers Aged 16 or 17

A young worker would be someone aged between school leaving age and 18 years old. If you employ young staff members aged 16 or 17 they cannot work between the hours of midnight and 4 am (04:00).

As a general rule, 16 and 17-year-olds cannot work between 10 pm (22:00) and 6 am (06:00). But, the limited hours can change to between 11 pm (23:00) and 7 am (07:00) by a contractual agreement. Other exceptions may apply to young workers if they are working in:

  • Agriculture
  • A hospital, a hotel, or in catering
  • Artistic or advertising activities
  • Cultural or sporting activities
  • Retail
  • Post or newspaper delivery

In some cases, young workers can work at night if there are ‘exceptional circumstances’. An example would be if no adult is available to carry out the work and either:

  • The employer needs the young worker to handle a sudden increase in demand.
  • The employer needs the young worker to maintain the continuity of production or a service (e.g. a movie).

Note: In these situations, employers must give the young person a rest period matching the same length as the extended shift. Other restrictions also apply as part of child employment laws when employing young people.

Exceptions to Night Working Time Limits

There are certain areas of work whereby the limits on night working hours do not usually apply. They include jobs and professions such as:

  • The armed forces, the police, and the emergency services.
  • Domestic staff (e.g. servants) employed to help out in a private household.
  • Managerial positions that allow people to choose the length of time they work (e.g. freelancers, company executives).

The hourly limits on night working hours do not apply for people who:

  • Are involved in an accident or an emergency situation.
  • Are employed in the rail industry and work on board trains, your activities are irregular, or they link to making sure trains run on time).
  • Have a collective or workforce agreement that changes or excludes the restriction on night work.
  • Need to travel a long distance from home to work (or work constantly in different locations).
  • Work in jobs requiring round-the-clock staffing (e.g. a hospital).
  • Work in an industry with busy peak periods of high demand (e.g. agriculture, retail, security and surveillance-based jobs, tourism).

Night workers who work in any of these situations will use a different reference period. It extends from 17 weeks to 26 weeks for calculating the weekly working time limit.

Note: Taking compensatory rest breaks is part of night shift workers rights. It helps to make up for the extra time spent in work.

Workers in Road, Sea and Air Transport

A different set of rules and limits apply to night workers in a ‘mobile’ capacity. Typical examples include jobs in air transport, road driving hours, and for seafarer working and living rights. The rules provide these workers with ‘adequate rest’.

Compensatory Rest Breaks

Staff members in these types of jobs must take ‘compensatory rest’ breaks. They replace the breaks taken during the day time in a normal working week. But, they only relate to staff when night work limits do not apply.

A compensatory rest break must be at least ninety (90) hours of rest per week – as an average. It should be long enough to ensure workers do not risk injuring themselves or anyone around them. Even so, all employers must also follow the general rules on maximum weekly working time.

Note: You can get in touch with Acas for further clarification on whether the exceptions apply to your situation.

Health Rights of Night Shift Workers

Before becoming a night worker your employer must offer you a free health assessment. As a rule, they will offer you an assessment at least once a year. Even so, there is no legal requirement for the employee to accept it.

Only a qualified health professional can write one out if you accept it. Often, this type of health assessment is a questionnaire format. The reason behind it is because working at night has a tendency to increase stress levels.

A health professional may carry out a follow-up examination. It happens most if an employer has concerns that the worker may be unfit for night work. In this case, they should issue a repeat assessment on a regular basis.

Note: Employers must adhere to the health rights of night shift workers (including pregnant mothers). It might mean offering alternative suitable work if a doctor confirms the health concerns relate to working at night.

Keeping Confidential Records

All employers have certain responsibilities related to recruitment and managing staff records. As such, they must keep all records ‘confidential’ regarding:

  • Any health assessments that get carried out on employees and kept for two (2) years.
  • The dates when assessments got offered to staff members even if the worker chose not to accept it.

Working Rights for Night Shift Workers in the United Kingdom