Law guide: Employment

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Night shifts

Night shifts

Night shift regulations

The Regulations provide that if your employee is a night worker, your normal hours of work shall not exceed an average of eight hours for each 24 hours. You shall take all reasonable steps, in keeping with the need to protect your employee's health and safety, to ensure compliance with this limit.

If the work involves 'special hazards' or heavy physical or mental strain, your employee is subject to an eight-hour limit on actual working time in any 24-hour period working. 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 your employee will be defined as a 'night worker' should they work at least three hours of their daily working time during night time as a normal course.

Night time is defined as a period of at least seven hours which 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. A person will be taken to work hours 'as a normal course' if they work such hours on the majority of working days.

A person works at night 'as a normal course' if they do so on a regular basis, for example on a rotating shift pattern that results in that person working regularly as opposed to an infrequent basis during night time.

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 employee. 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 your employee 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
  • Other activities where the employee is affected by an occurrence due to unusual and unforeseeable circumstances beyond your control

If a situation arises where a special case applies, you must allow your employee 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 afford your employee the 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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