So here we are; the shortest day of the year, also known as the Winter Solstice or the longest night. In the past, ancient cultures celebrated this as a time of rebirth and of welcoming back the light. As someone who loathes getting up while it’s still dark, I can certainly get on board with that idea, but it also makes me think about people who do this daily and by choice – night workers.
You’ll find night workers in all kinds of industries and roles, from security and logistics to retail, travel and international finance. If you employ night workers, you need to be aware of the law so that you can properly protect them (and your business) from any problems that can arise.
So, what makes someone a night worker?
A night worker is defined as a member of staff who regularly works at least 3 hours during the ‘night period’, which is usually considered to be from 11pm to 6am. In some cases, a worker and employer can agree a different night period (this has to be agreed in writing). If so, the agreed night period must be 7 hours long and include the hours between midnight and 5am.
NB: Employees may also be considered to be night workers if there’s a collective agreement in place that states their work is night work.
How many hours by law can you work at night?
There are legal limits on working hours for night workers that go beyond the usual rules on maximum weekly working hours and rest breaks. For example, a night worker must not work for more than an average of 8 hours in a 24-hour period.
You’ll notice this requirement involves an average working time, rather than the exact hours worked across each singular 24-hour period. This average is usually calculated over 17 weeks. When you come to calculate the average working time, be sure to include any regular overtime (occasional overtime doesn’t have to be part of the calculation).
Where night work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain, there is a daily limit instead of an average. In these cases, the night worker must not work more than 8 hours in any 24-hour period. Employers must carry out a risk assessment to identify special hazards or work that involves heavy mental/physical strain.
Another important point to note here is that workers cannot opt-out of these limits.
Are there exceptions to night working limits?
In some cases, the limits on night working hours do not always apply. Exceptions are usually made for those in the armed forces and emergency services, to domestic staff employed in a private house or in situations where a person can choose how long they work – like freelancers or company owners.
- in jobs that need round-the-clock staffing, like hospital work
- in an industry with busy peak periods, like agriculture, retail, tourism, security and surveillance
- if there’s an emergency or an accident
- 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
Are night working rules different for young people?
In short, yes. In addition to the other restrictions on employing young people, staff aged 16 or 17 cannot legally work between midnight and 4am.
Additionally, these young workers usually can’t work between the hours of 10pm and 6am, but this can be changed to 11pm and 7am if agreed in their contract.
There are a few exceptions if they work in;
- a hotel or catering
- advertising activities
- cultural, sporting or artistic activities
- a hospital
- newspaper or post delivery
What records should employers keep for night workers?
As an employer, you must keep records of night workers’ working hours to show they are not exceeding the limits. These records must be kept for at least 2 years and all personal data must be stored in compliance with the GDPR.
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