Legal Advice

Do I need to pay more to staff who work unsociable hours?

Luisa Ddakis | 8 March 2021 | 3 years ago

Do I need to pay more to staff who work unsociable hours?

With around 12% of the British workforce working night shifts and even more on unsociable hours, it is important for businesses to understand their responsibilities for paying their employees. With a growing demand for instant gratification and global trading, more and more industries are needing to work around the clock to keep up. Where unsociable hours were once limited to emergency services, medical staff, and the occasional hotel clerk, round the clock work, or at least extended hours, are now expected in finance, postal, retail, tourism, charity, and many more industries.

This begs the question, do employees who work unsociable hours need to be paid more?

There was a time when companies remunerated those willing to work undesirable shifts with extra financial incentive, but the truth is that there is no legal requirement for unsociable hour and night shift workers to be paid more than their daytime working counterparts. And as more companies join the all-day work schedule, there has been a decline in the number of workers receiving any benefit for working outside of “business hours”.

What are unsociable hours?

There is no technical definition for unsociable hours. Most businesses look at evening work and weekends as unsociable, but this is largely based around the demand from the business. For instance, a business that runs its normal hours from 9am – 5pm may view unsociable hours as anything outside of that while a business that runs from 8am – 10pm may only view work after 10pm as unsociable.

What is classified as a night shift?

Generally, a night shift worker is anyone who works at least three hours between 11pm and 6am.

Employers are allowed to make agreements with their employees to set their own night shift hours. If an agreement is in place then it must be done in writing and has to be at least seven hours long and include midnight to 5am.

There are also additional rules for night workers governing how many hours they are allowed to work in a 24 hour period and how much they get paid for “sleep-in” shifts.

What is the rate of pay for unsocial hours?

Currently, the law requires that every employee is paid the minimum wage. There is no discrimination between social and unsocial hours or day and night shift workers.

The minimum wage only changes depending on your employee’s age and if they are employed as an apprentice and the rates are set by the government every year on 1 April.

When the minimum wage requirements change on 1 April 2021 the age to receive the highest minimum wage also goes down to 23 from 25.

The minimum wages currently set out are as follows:

Employees 25 and over Employees 23 and over Employees 21-22 Employees 18-20

 
Employees under 18 Apprentices
Current rates of pay £8.72 £8.20 £8.20 £6.45 £4.55 £4.15
Rates of pay from 1 April 2021 £8.91 £8.91 £8.36 £6.56 £4.62 £4.30
 

There is also a suggestion that employees over 25 are paid the national living wage rather than the minimum wage. Businesses with employees required to live in London are strongly advised to pay slightly higher wages to reflect the higher living costs in London, although currently they are only legally required to pay the minimum amount.

The current recommendations from The Living Wages Foundation for living wages are £9.50/hour for those living outside London and £10.85/hour for those living in London.

What is the rate of pay for night shifts and sleep-in shifts?

Night shifts are treated as any other unsociable hours and employees should also receive the national minimum wage. The only time this changes is when employees are doing a sleep-in shift with employees who are expected to be sleeping only being paid for hours that they have reported working during the night.

Sleep-in shifts involve any work where employees are allowed to sleep during their work. This could apply to residential care staff or staff who are on call at night.

Sleep-in shift workers are divided into two categories: workers expected to sleep most of the night (such as staff on call) and workers expected to work most of the night (such as security guards). Which type of worker you are should be clearly shown on your contract. Employees are also required to provide a place for their sleep-in employees to sleep.

Employees who are expected to work most of the night should be paid the minimum wage for their full shift. Employees who are expected to sleep most of the night are only paid for the hours they are actually awake and working. They will need to keep accurate records to show their employers to claim the hours of work done during their sleep-in shifts.

Should Night shift workers be paid more?

The benefits of working during the day seem clear: time with family and friends in normal socialising hours, normal sleep patterns, and even simply seeing sunshine from your office window. There are also proven health benefits to working days instead of nights, so it seems right that night shift workers be paid more.

Unfortunately, there is no legal requirement for companies to pay night shift workers more. The only benefit required by law for those working unsociable hours are longer rest-time requirements between shifts.

Some businesses recognise that in order to run successfully they will need workers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and these businesses will often offer increased pay for people willing to work undesirable hours. But a lot of businesses are doing away with this, especially as demand for job increases and more and more people are willing to take on odd working hours.

Remote and flexible working has also resulted in many employees working during unsociable hours because it fits around their own daily schedules more easily. With a rise in flexible working, there is also less need for businesses to offer any other incentives for employees to work late.

A word of advice to employers though: if your business often requires staff to work night-shifts or unsociable hours, it may be in your best interests to offer a higher pay package for those willing to put in the late hours. Your staff will be grateful, morale will likely be higher, and the happier you keep your staff, the more likely your business is to thrive.

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