The law on night shifts and breaks



A reader wrote to recently, asking about the law on shift working, particularly those that rotate between days and nights and the rest periods between them.

Louise Paull, an employment lawyer at LawBite, here spells out the legal position with regard to shifts and breaks.

Generally a worker’s working time, including overtime, must not exceed an average of 48 hours a week. In most cases this average is calculated over a 17-week period. You can opt out of the 48-hour limit.

If you work during the night on the majority of your shifts or do so as a normal work pattern, it is likely that you will be classed as a night worker. For legal purposes, night time is between 12am (midnight) and 5am. If you are a night worker, your average limit on your hours of work is eight hours per day. If your shift work includes special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain, each shift cannot be longer than eight hours.

In addition, along with all workers (whether or not you’re a night worker),  you are entitled to rest breaks. There are four types of these rest breaks:

  • A daily rest period of 11 hours’ uninterrupted rest per day;
  • A weekly rest period of 24 hours’ uninterrupted rest per week or, at your employer’s choice, 48 hours’ per fortnight;
  • A rest break of 20 minutes when a day’s working time is more than six hours; and
  • Adequate rest breaks for workers carrying out monotonous work, such as on a production line, where this can put a worker’s health and safety at risk – this may mean that you are entitled to further short breaks in addition to the other rest breaks depending on the work that you do.


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