There is a range of laws that govern work rotas in the UK, regulating how long employees can work, how many breaks they’re entitled to, and how much they should be paid for their time, among other things.
These laws can be challenging to navigate, but it’s crucial that HR staff are familiar with them - both to ensure a business remains compliant and to encourage employee engagement through fair and equal treatment.
This article looks at the UK work rota laws HR staff should be aware of and how to create an efficient work rota for your organization.
What is a work rota?
A work rota is a schedule used to organize and coordinate the workforce by setting out the days and times that each employee is required to be at work. They can vary in format, but usually cover a weekly or monthly time frame.
Work rotas are typically used in sectors that operate on a shift basis - like retail, hospitality, healthcare and emergency services - though they can also be used in offices that run on shift patterns or flexible work arrangements.
Essentially, a work rota ensures an organization is appropriately and adequately staffed at all times, as well as giving employees advanced notice of their work commitments.
Why is a work rota important?
Having a work rota is important for several reasons. First, it is often a requirement to ensure employers are compliant with UK work rota laws. With a well-documented work rota in place, a business can prove it’s meeting its obligations and avoid potential legal issues.
Second, a work rota is necessary for a business to operate at maximum productivity and prevent the negative impact of staff shortages.
For the workforce, a rota is a way to establish proper working practices. With everyone working fair hours and afforded ample time off, businesses reduce the risk of employee stress and burnout and boost engagement through increased job satisfaction.
What does the UK law say about work rotas?
There are various laws in the UK that protect worker’s rights, including those found under the Working Time Regulations 1998, the National Minimum Wage Regulations 2015 and the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Below you’ll find details of rules pertaining to workplace rotas. Note that this is not intended as legal advice, and you must consult the relevant regulations to ensure compliance.
UK work law defines a night worker as anyone who regularly works 3 hours or more during the night period of 11pm to 6am. There is, however, scope to shift this night period if both the employer and employee agree to do so in writing.
If you do alter this night period, you must ensure it remains 7 hours long and is inclusive of the hours between midnight and 5am.
Night workers are entitled to at least 11 consecutive hours of rest in any 24-hour period, and a rest break of at least 20 minutes during any shift of more than 6 hours. Additionally, night workers cannot work more than an average of eight hours per 24-hour period. This average is typically taken over 17 weeks and includes regular (but not occasional) overtime.
Note that there are exceptions to the limits on night working hours. These exceptions apply when 24-hour staffing is required like in hospitals for example, and in industries that experience seasonal peaks like retail and tourism.
Overtime is classed as any working hours completed on top of an employee's contracted hours.
Regulations state that employers cannot force staff to work more than 48 hours per week, including overtime, over a 17-week reference period. However, employees can opt out of this limit if they wish. If they do, their employer must provide a written agreement for them to sign.
Whilst it is not a legal requirement for a business to pay staff for overtime, it must ensure the average pay received for the total amount of hours worked is equal to or higher than National Minimum Wage.
The UK has specific laws in place to protect the rights of part-time workers. The Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favorable Treatment) Regulations 2000 state that part-time workers should receive the same treatment as full-time workers when it comes to their working hours, scheduling and shift patterns.
Employers must also provide part-time workers with a work rota that outlines their hours of work and any breaks they’re entitled to. Part-time workers are permitted the same rest breaks and rest periods as full-time workers, and their work rota should reflect this.
Whilst there is no legal definition as to what counts as part-time, the term generally applies to anyone working fewer hours than a contracted full-time worker, who will typically work a minimum of 35 hours per week.
UK work rota laws also apply to fixed-term contracts, with anyone on such a contract entitled to the same protections as permanent workers, including minimum rest periods, rest breaks and working time limits.
Work rotas for fixed-term contracts should be agreed upon at the start of the contract and should not be changed without the employee’s agreement, except in exceptional circumstances.
Employees are only deemed to be on a fixed-term contract if that contract is with the employer directly (i.e. not through an agency) and is set to end on a specified date.
Under UK work rota laws, rest breaks fall into three categories - rest breaks at work, daily rest and weekly rest.
Workers are entitled to at least a 20-minute rest break if they work for more than 6 hours a day. Employers can state when rest breaks are to be taken - provided they fall reasonably into a shift - and can determine whether or not employees get paid for these rest breaks.
Workers are also entitled to at least 11 consecutive hours of rest in any 24-hour period, and at least one day off per week or two days off per fortnight.
Anyone deemed to be in employment in the UK is legally entitled to 5.6 weeks paid annual leave relevant to their contracted hours.
For full-time workers on a five-day week, this equates to 28 days. For part-time workers, the number of days holiday per year will be 5.6 times the number of days a week they work - for example, a two-day week would equate to 11.2 days. For those on irregular hours, holiday entitlement must be calculated per each hour worked.
Employers can refuse or cancel leave requests provided they give as many days notice as the amount of days requested, plus one extra day.
Workers under 18
Employers must comply with slightly different regulations for workers under the age of 18. For at work rest breaks, these should be offered as 30 minutes for every 4.5 hours worked, ideally taken in one go.
For daily and weekly rest breaks, under 18s are entitled to a minimum of 12 hours rest between each shift and two days off per week. The law also states that workers under 18 cannot work between the hours of midnight and 4am.
Last-minute changes to working hours
Employers must give advance notice to workers regarding any changes to their work rota, and certainly a minimum of 24 hours notice.
If an employer makes a last-minute change to an employee’s work rota without reasonable notice, the employee may be entitled to compensation. Additionally, if an employee has a good reason for not being able to work the new shift they have the right to refuse the change.
How to create an efficient work rota
Creating an efficient work rota ensures your business runs smoothly and that employees remain happy, engaged and productive. It also requires careful planning and consideration.
Make sure the shifts are assigned fairly
Assigning shifts fairly is vital if you want to achieve a positive and productive work environment. If employees sense any favoritism they’re likely to disengage from their work, and if you’re not assigning shifts based on skills you’ll see underperforming teams.
Consider using these strategies to staff your workplace fairly and effectively:
Use objective criteria to assign shifts such as seniority, skills and availability.
Consider employee preferences and try to offer everyone an equal chance of securing at least some of their preferred shifts.
Rotate shifts regularly so everyone gets a good mix of working hours.
Monitor work rotas for any signs of bias or favoritism.
Where possible, create work rotas well in advance. By planning ahead, HR teams can be sure there’s enough staff to cover busy periods, and reduce the likelihood of confusion due to last-minute changes.
Planning ahead also helps to ensure that the workload is distributed evenly and that there are no scheduling conflicts.
Keep the staff informed
Even the best-designed rota in the world will be ineffective if staff are ill-informed, so make sure everyone understands who’s working when, where they need to be and what they’ll be responsible for.
Keeping staff informed is critical to a positive culture too. When employees are aware of their work schedules they can plan their personal commitments better. This helps them maintain a good work-life balance, reduces the likelihood of absenteeism or tardiness, and boosts overall staff morale.
Set guidelines for sick leave
To help overcome unforeseen circumstances with a work rota, HR teams should have a plan in place for when an employee calls in sick. Consider things like keeping a record of staff availability so replacements can be found quickly, and having a process to reward those who cover on short notice.
With a well-considered plan in place, HR teams can quickly and effectively manage staff levels, minimizing the impact of employee absences on productivity, customer service and team morale.
Use attendance tracking software
HR teams can streamline the process of creating and managing work rotas by using attendance tracking software. Automation saves time and reduces the risk of human error, while attendance data ensures employees are allocated a fair amount of work.
Tracking attendance also helps to identify any trends in absenteeism or lateness so they can be addressed accordingly. And last but not least, attendance tracking software helps you prove compliance with UK work rota laws.
A work rota is a schedule that outlines the shifts of employees in an organization. It helps a business run smoothly and boosts employee engagement through fair working practices.
UK laws stipulate certain regulations that HR teams must follow when creating work rotas, such as laws on night shifts, overtime, rest breaks, holiday entitlement and last-minute changes to working hours.
When creating an efficient work rota, it’s important to plan ahead, assign shifts fairly and keep staff informed. HR teams should also have practices in place to deal with staff absenteeism.
Using attendance tracking software can offer several benefits for managing work rotas, including automating creation and management, monitoring attendance and providing valuable data for informed decision making on workload allocation.