A Plain English Guide To British Employment Law

Night Workers

Night working employment law limits

There are specific rules covering night workers.

Anyone being taken on to work at night must be offered a free health assessment.

Night working time hours

Night time working hours are usually considered to be between 11pm and 6am – although this can be flexible depending on any agreement between employee and employer.

The agreement must be in writing. The night time period must:

  • be 7 hours long
  • include the period between midnight and 5am

Staff who regularly work for at least 3 hours during this period are night workers. Workers may also be a night workers if:

  • there’s a collective agreement (between the employer and the workers or their representatives) that states what counts as night work
  • it’s likely that they’ll work a proportion of their annual working time during the night

The rules about how long staff work at night are based on average working time, which is usually calculated over a 17-week period. This includes regular overtime but not occasional overtime.

If the workers and the employer both agree as part of a collective or workforce agreement, the working hours can be averaged over a longer period (eg up to 52 weeks).

Employers must make sure that workers don’t work more than an average of 8 hours in a 24-hour period. Workers can’t opt out of this working limit.

Employers must keep records of night workers’ working hours to prove they aren’t exceeding night working limits. Employers must keep the records for at least 2 years.

Exceptions to night work limits

The normal limits on night worker hours don’t usually apply:

  • in the armed forces or emergency services in certain circumstances (eg when dealing with a disaster situation)
  • to domestic servants employed in a private house
  • for people who do jobs where they choose how long they work, eg managing executives, freelancers

There are separate rules for workers in roadsea and air transport.

Limits on night work also don’t apply:

  • in an industry with busy peak periods, eg agriculture, retail, tourism or security and surveillance work
  • if there’s an emergency or accident
  • in jobs that need round-the-clock staffing, eg hospital work
  • if a member of staff has to travel a long distance from home to work or constantly works in different places
  • if a collective or workforce agreement excludes or changes the restriction on night work

Rest breaks

In these cases, workers must get ‘compensatory rest’ instead of a normal working week and breaks during the day.

This is a minimum of 90 hours rest a week on average, but it may not be at normal times.

Employers must also follow the general rules on working hours.