The UK government has yet to establish a precise definition of ‘anti-social’ or ‘unsocial’ hours, however, unsocial hour payments refers to the increased hourly pay rates that employees receive when working shifts that are deemed unsocial, such as night shifts and weekend shifts. These include shifts that require workers to work overnight or on a rota that may involve very early mornings or late evenings.
The only legal requirement for employees working unsociable hours is to receive the National Minimum Wage. Employers are not legally obligated to offer increased pay for working unsociable hours. As of April 2023, the national minimum wage rates are as follows:
– 23 and over (National Living Wage) – £10.42
– 21 to 22 year olds – £10.18
– 18 to 20 year olds – £7.49
– 16 to 17 year olds – £5.28
– Apprentice – £5.28
Workers aged 16 or 17 are prohibited from working between midnight and 4 am, usually cannot work between 10 pm and 6 am (this can be changed to not working between 11 pm and 7 am, by contract) but can make exceptions when working in specific industries such as Agriculture, Cultural, Sporting, Artistic or Advertising activities, a hospital, a hotel or catering, retail, Post or newspaper delivery.
Night workers are subject to additional rules, on top of the rules on weekly maximum working hours and rest breaks, which limits them to work no more than 8 hours on average in a 24-hour period. The average is calculated over 17 weeks but can be over a longer period (up to 52 weeks) upon agreement between the employer and the employee. Regular overtime is included in this average, but not occasional overtime.
While some industries require a 24-hour service, seven days a week, that results in around-the-clock working patterns that can be difficult to fill, certain employers offer additional payments to employees working unsocial hours. The NHS has a specific payment structure for unsocial hours that is outlined in their contract of employment, which offers ‘Time plus a percentage’ based on the core pay bands. Private companies also offer similar arrangements, but it is imperative to check employment contracts for add-ons like this.
It is essential to remember that the decision on determining the rate of pay ultimately lies with the employer, taking into consideration the unique business needs. If workers are working under a contract of employment that includes unsocial-hour payments, they will receive a contractual right to the additional pay during the assigned shifts. Any failure to meet this contractual right will result in a breach of contract, leaving employees with the ability to resign and claim constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal. Additionally, employers are obliged to pay the additional money to part-time workers working the shifts as they cannot be treated less favourably.
Here are some tips on how to best organise your employees’ shifts during unsociable hours:
Plan ahead. Planning shifts well in advance helps both you and your employees. If you let your employees know in advance when their shifts are going to take place, they can organise their lives accordingly; this, in turn, leads to better productivity, which makes happy employees and business owners.
Be flexible. Shift work can lead to increased stress levels in workers, which ultimately affects productivity. Therefore, it’s advisable to allow employees some degree of control over the shifts they work. Additionally, being open to, but in control of, shift swapping can strike the right balance between strict planning and flexibility.
Encourage breaks. Regular breaks boost productivity and should be factored in as part of the working day. Employees who took regular short breaks performed better than workers who did not. Shift workers can benefit hugely from these, and employees should factor in regular breaks while remaining clear about when they can take them.
In addition, various studies have shown that shift work can have negative effects on employees’ health and wellbeing. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that the shift schedules are fair and balanced.
By working with employees and giving them the best possible means to carry out their work, employers can ensure the smooth running of their business.