The UK government doesn’t have an official definition of ‘anti-social’ or ‘unsocial’ hours, but unsocial hours payments can be defined as the increased hourly pay rates of workers who are employed to work hours or shifts which can be viewed to be unsocial, such as night shifts or weekend shifts; think overnight working or those who have to work late into the evening.
So what are the legal rules on working unsociable hours?
The only legal requirement is that employers pay the National Minimum Wage, but there is no legal entitlement for employers to offer increased pay for working unsociable hours.
The national minimum wage as of April 2018 is:
- 25 and over – £7.83
- 21 to 24 – £7.38
- 18 to 20 – £5.90
- Under 18 – £4.20
- Apprentice – £3.70
But what about younger workers?
Staff aged 16 or 17 cannot work between midnight and 4am.
They usually can’t work between 10pm and 6am (this can be changed to not working between 11pm and 7am, by contract) but there are exceptions if they work in:
- Cultural, sporting, artistic or advertising activities
- A hospital
- A hotel or catering
- Post or newspaper delivery
In exceptional circumstances they can work at night if there’s no adult to do the work and they’re needed to either:
- Handle a sudden increase in demand
- Maintain the continuity of a service or production, eg filming
The employer must give the young person a rest period of the same length as the extended shift.
Shift allowance law
Additional rules apply to night workers on top of the rules on maximum weekly working hours and rest breaks.
Night workers must not work more than an average of 8 hours in a 24-hour period.
The average is usually calculated over 17 weeks, but it can be over a longer period of up to 52 weeks if the workers and the employer agree, eg by collective agreement.
Regular overtime is included in the average, but not occasional overtime.
But that’s not fair, surely I should get paid for working those kind of hours?
This will come as a surprise for many and I am sure more for the employee themselves.
However certain industries which require a 24-hour, around-the-clock working pattern, seven-day-a-week service will commonly offer these additional payments to staff because they require a number of members of staff at all times regardless of how difficult these shifts are to fill.
But remember the decision on determining the rate of pay is one to be made by the business and of course will take into account individual business needs.
Where is the good news?
If an employee is working under a contract of employment which includes unsocial hour’s payments, they will gain a contractual right to the additional pay when they are working the allocated ‘unsocial shifts’.
Clearly any failure to meet this contractual right will result in a breach of contract, a situation from which an employee can resign and claim constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal.
Employers are also be obliged to pay the additional money to part-time workers working the shifts as they cannot be treated less favourably; this goes for most part-time rights.