Time and Attendance

Work Rota Laws in the UK: Fair Shift Scheduling

Understand the legal obligations you have when planning your team's rota...
Sean QuinnPosted on Monday, October 23rd 2023

If your business relies on flexible shift workers, it's important to fairly plan your rota. Not only does it ensure optimal staffing levels and the smooth running of your business, fair scheduling makes for a happier and more engaged workforce.

What should a fair rota take into consideration?

Weekly working hours limit

In the UK, employees cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours a week on average (averaged over 17 weeks, in most cases). A fair rota should take this limit into account, and bear in mind that for employees who work multiple jobs, all of their working hours count towards the 48 hour limit.

Employees can opt out of the 48 hour limit, but this must be recorded officially in writing, and employees can change their mind at any time.

Rest breaks

Employees are entitled to a rest break of 20 minutes when working for 6 hours or more; this should be planned into the rota, to ensure it can be taken during the work day (and not at the start or end of the shift).

Breaks between shifts

By law, employees are entitled to an 11 hour rest break between shifts. Employers can occasionally schedule shifts less than 11 hours apart, so long as they have a legitimate reason for doing so - and the employee must receive 'compensatory rest' instead. This means they take their rest at a later time.

Include all working time

'Working time' isn't just time an employee spends doing their usual duties; it also includes travel to and from work (if there is no fixed place of work), time spent in training and time spent on call.

Publish in plenty of time

There's a legal obligation to notify employees of their shifts with 'advance' notice. Although this is legally ambiguous, common sense would assume that always posting the week's rota on Sunday night is not reasonable. Fair scheduling should provide enough notice for employees to arrange transport, childcare and their social lives around their shifts for the week - whilst still allowing for occasional late notice of shift changes, when required.

Frequently Asked Questions for Shift Workers

Can my employer change my shift last minute?

In most cases - yes. If you have set working hours laid out in your contract, these should be adhered to and your employer cannot change these without changing your contract. However, if you have agreed to work flexible hours, your employer has the right to change your shift times as they need.

Generally though, employers are expected to give you reasonable notice, and you should let them know if you're unable to attend work due to their last minute changes.

How far in advance should I get my rota for the week?

UK law states that employers should provide 'advance' notice of the hours they expect employees to work.

This is a vague rule, and so is subject to interpretation by the employer. For a last minute shift swap, it may be reasonable to give 24 hours notice, or even 12 hours in case of an emergency or where sick cover is required.

However, if an employer is changing your entire working pattern with very little notice or consistently providing rotas at the last opportunity, this may be a concern. If the business' policy or employee contracts dictate a notice period, the employer is legally obligated to stick with this notice period and ensure rotas are published with plenty of time.

Can employers force you to stay after a shift?

Depending on your contract, you may be required to work overtime when your boss requests it. Many contracts include a clause which requires overtime to be worked 'when necessary for the business' - meaning you could be asked to stay later than the usual end of your shift.

However, your employer cannot compel you to work more than 48 hours a week - you are free to opt out of this limit, but you cannot be forced to and shouldn't be treated unfavourably if you refuse to.

Does my employer have to offer me shifts?

If your contract of employment states that you have a set number of contracted hours, you should be offered shifts which total at least that amount of hours.

For employees on zero hours contracts though, there is much more flexibility. Employers are not under any obligation to offer you shifts each week, but you also have the freedom to turn down any shifts you are offered.

How to fairly plan your rota

It's easiest to plan your rota using a cloud-based solution, rather than relying on old-fashioned paper rotas. This allows you to quickly schedule your employees shifts and notify them instantly, as well as keeping them updated in real time of any changes.

Using a time and attendance app such as TimeKeeper allows you to notify your staff of new shifts via push notification, and they can easily make holiday requests too to let you know when they're not available. Working time can be tracked easily from the app too, so you know your rota has been adhered to and can keep an eye on the total hours they're working each week.

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