Law guide: Employment

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Night shifts

Night shifts

The rights set out in this section apply to workers (individuals contracted to provide work or services to you on a full-time, part-time or fixed-term basis). This includes employees but not self-employed staff.

Night shift regulations

The Regulations provide that for a night worker, their normal hours of work shall not exceed an average of 8 hours for each 24 hours. To protect their health and safety, you must take all reasonable steps to ensure compliance with this limit.

If the work involves 'special hazards' or heavy physical or mental strain, their working time must be subject to an 8-hour limit in any 24-hour working period. Night work will fall into this category if:

  • It is identified as such in a collective agreement or a workforce agreement (which takes account of the specific effects and hazards of night work)
  • It is recognised as involving a significant risk to health and safety in a risk assessment carried out by you under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 (or the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000)

If there is no agreement in place, a worker will be defined as a 'night worker' if they work at least 3 hours of their daily working time during the night on the majority of working days. For example, on a rotating shift pattern that results in that person working regularly during night time, as opposed to on an infrequent basis.

Night time is defined as a period of at least 7 hours that includes the period between midnight and 5.00 a.m. If this period is not defined by a relevant agreement, a default period of 11.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m. applies.

The reference period that applies in the case of a night worker is any period of 17 weeks in the course of their employment, unless a relevant agreement stipulates which successive periods of 17 weeks amount to such reference period. This period may be modified by a collective or workforce agreement.

The reference period may vary in the case of a temporary worker. Where a night worker has worked for you for less than 17 weeks, the reference period is the period that has lapsed since the worker started work with you.


There are special cases where the limits on the length of night time work do not apply. These include, among others, the following:

  • Where the activities are such that the place of work and place of residence are distant from one another or different places of work are distant from one another
  • Where a worker is engaged in security and surveillance activities requiring permanent presence in order to protect property and persons
  • Where the activities involve the need for continuity of service or production, for example press, radio, television, gas, water and electricity production, research and development activities, agriculture
  • Where there is a foreseeable surge of activity as occurs in agriculture, tourism and the postal services

If a situation arises where a special case applies, you must allow your worker to take an equivalent period of compensatory rest wherever possible. In exceptional cases where it is not possible to grant such a period of rest, you have a duty to safeguard your employee's health and safety.

You must give your workers appropriate protection should they be required to carry out work that exceeds the limits on the length of night time work.

If you fail to comply with the limits on night time work, the sanctions are similar to those applicable to limits on maximum weekly working time.

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