There are laws and regulations that apply to employees who work night shift. These apply to all employees whether they are permanent members of staff or casual workers on zero hour contracts.
Laws on Night Shift Hours in the UK
UK night working hours are between 11pm (23.00) and 6am (06.00), although this agreement can be slightly varied between employers and workers if all parties agree.
A ‘night worker’ is classed as someone who works for at least 3 hours during this period.
Night Shift Hours
There are special rules on how hours during the night are worked. Night shift hours are any hours worked during the night period.
This timeframe runs between 11pm and 6pm. It is possible for workers to agree a different set of night working hours with their employer. However, the hours must span 7 hours and need to include the hours of 12am to 5am.
If you work more than 3 hours during night shift hours, you are deemed to be doing nightwork
Generally, night shift workers:-
- Should not work more than 8 hours in any 24 hour period, averaged over 17 weeks.
- Cannot opt-out of from this limit unless it is allowed for by a collective workforce agreement, although in some cases you can average night work over a 26 week period.
- Must be offered a free health assessment before they begin night work duties and on a regular basis after that.
For some workers – those Working with Hazards or under mental or physical strain – there can be no averaging at all – the 8 hour limit must be strictly adhered to.
Rest Periods For Night Shift Workers
There are rules on rest periods between shifts for all workers. In general there should be:-
- Minimum 11 hours rest between finishing work and starting the next night shift.
- 24 hours rest in a 7 day period.
- 48 hours rest in a 14 day period. This is usually taken as one block but can be 2 x 24 hour periods.
Our guide on how long you can work without a break has more detailed information on your right to rest.
Exceptions To Rest Period Rules
There can be some exceptions to rest period rules for night workers. For example, a switch from night shift to day shift might mean that it’s not possible to provide an 11 hour rest period.
Similarly, a variation in shift times might mean there is not enough time to give a rest period.
Employers should do their best to provide rest periods to workers. It is important to note that workers on zero hour contracts have the same rights as other workers to rest periods.
Minimum Age For Working Night Shift
Workers under the age of 18 are not permitted to work night shift hours.
The latest a worker under the age of 18 can work is 10pm. They also cannot start work before 6am. There are limited exceptions to this, but a night shift would never be permissible. Our guide on working hours for young workers details the laws on working hours for 16 & 17 year old employees.
Working Night Shift when Pregnant
There are also regulations covering pregnant workers working night shift. If a pregnant worker has a certificate from a midwife or GP stating that they are unable to work nights, then the employer must suspend her from night working duty for as long as required.
If there are no alternative shifts during the day, the worker should be suspended for as long as necessary on full pay.
However, a pregnant worker cannot be removed from night shift without medical evidence that it is necessary.
See Also: Working Unsociable Hours – a look at the health effects of working out of normal office hours, and employee rights.
Employers Duties & Night Worker Regulations
It is an employer’s duty to comply with the night work regulations. They should keep records to ensure workers do not exceed their night working limit.
Records of their employees’ health assessments should be kept for 2 years or, if they didn’t take up that offer, the date the offer was made should be recorded.
How to Adapt to Working at Night
A human’s body clock was designed to be awake during daylight hours and to sleep at night. Many night workers have experienced difficulty in adapting to the changes in working at night and sleeping during the day.
Some good tips include:-
- Timing meals and other activities to match the new ‘day’.
- Exercise can often sort out body rhythms. Try starting your new ‘day’ with a brisk jog or by cycling. This may mean doing exercise at 10 o’clock at night, but it has proven to have been beneficial for many night shift workers.
- Although not always possible, studies have shown that a short nap in the middle of a night shift can help maintain or improve performance later on in the shift. You could try this during your longest rest break during your shift.
- One of the most common complaints with night shift work is difficulty in sleeping during the day. It’s important to try and create the same relaxing environment as you would normally do if you were sleeping at night. Your room should be well ventilated and not too hot. It should be as quiet as it would be at night so if you have a family, they should consider your needs sympathetically. If need be, you should install black-out window blinds so that your bedroom is as dark as possible and consider ear plugs and sleeping masks for your eyes, such as those you might get offered on a plane.
- When eating on the night shift, choose smaller portions rather than a heavier meal. This can make you feel tired and sluggish and can sometimes cause heartburn. Also try to avoid late night caffeine as this can have an adverse effect when you get home in the morning and are trying to get to sleep.
- Is night shift work bad for your health? Our guide looks at the ways in which disrupted sleep patterns can have unexpected effects on wellbeing.
- How many breaks in an 8 hour shift – a look at rights to rest breaks during the working day.
Our FAQ’s for night workers will help you find the answers to commonly asked questions about this type of shift work.
Workers cannot do any more than an average of 6 x 8 hour night shifts in a week. This is calculated by average working hours over 17 weeks. UK law says workers cannot work more than an average of 8 hours on night shift in every 24 hours. Workers must also take off at least two days per fortnight. That means the average limit for night work is 48 hours per week. However, the way this limit is calculated means that you could work more than 6 x 8 hour night shifts in a row, so long as you got two days off per fortnight, and did not exceed 48 hours a week on nights averaged out over 17 weeks.