Law guide: Workplace

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Working at night

Working at night

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

Working at night

Working at night can pose particular problems for workers. It is important to know the extra legal protection for night workers, what the exceptions are and what you can do if you're unhappy with your rights as a night worker.

Restrictions on night work

There are limits on how long you can work at night. Under the Working Time Regulations, night time is described as the period between 11pm and 6am. You're a night worker if you regularly work for at least 3 hours during this period.

The Regulations also give you rights to paid holiday, rest breaks and limits on your working week.

There are separate special rules for mobile workers in air, sea and road transport.

As a night worker, you shouldn't work more than an average of eight hours in each 24-hour period, (excluding overtime). This average is calculated over a 17-week period. You can't opt out of the night working limit.

If your night work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain, you can't be made to work more than eight hours in any 24-hour period. This includes overtime.

Young workers

If you're under 18 but over school leaving age, you are classed as a young worker.

In England you are under school leaving age until the end of summer term of the school year in which you turn 16.

In Scotland, you are under school leaving age until the last date in May or the first day of the Christmas holidays / 21st December depending on when your 16th birthday occurs.

In Northern Ireland you can leave school on the 30th June if you will be 16 on or before 1st July in that year.

You're not allowed to work at night (normally this is 10pm to 6am but you can agree to change this to 11pm to 7am). There are some exceptions to this (for example, if you work in a hospital or hotel). You can have 30 minutes rest break if you work longer than four and a half hours at a stretch.


Limits on night work don't apply if:

  • You have to travel a long distance from your home to get to work or you constantly work in different places
  • You're doing security or surveillance-based work
  • You're working in an industry with busy peak periods, like agriculture, retail or tourism
  • There's an emergency or there might be an accident
  • The job needs round-the-clock staffing (for example, hospital work)
  • You're employed in the rail industry and you work on board trains or your activities are irregular or linked to seeing that trains run on time

If you're a night worker in any of these situations, you have the right to take rest breaks to make up for your extra time at work.

Will you receive extra pay if you work at night?

Your employer might decide to reward you for working antisocial hours (for example, you may get free transport, food or extra pay). You only have a legal right to any of these if your contract says you do, but it's good practice for employers to offer them.

Changes to your contract

If you don't have to do night work under your contract, your employer will normally need your agreement to make you change your hours. A contract can be in writing or a verbal agreement.

Your health rights as a night worker

Because there are health risks linked with night work, your employer must offer you a free health assessment before you start working at night and on a regular basis after that. If you fill in a questionnaire and your answers cause concern your employer should refer you to a doctor.

If a doctor tells you that you have health problems caused by night work, your employer must transfer you to daytime work - if this is possible.

Night work and pregnancy

If you fall pregnant or are a new mother, and are worried about the risks of night time work, you should speak to your employer about being moved to daytime work.

What to do next

If you feel you're exceeding the night work limits:

  • Your employer may be in breach of contract
  • The Health and Safety Executive could take action against your employer

If you think you're not receiving any other rights as a night worker you can:

  • Talk to your manager to try to sort matters quickly - be aware that your employer must keep records of the hours you've worked for them
  • Contact your trade union or health and safety representative (if you have one) for advice
  • Either approach matters informally or follow the contractual grievance procedure

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