Keep your employee shift schedules legal – here’s your UK rota law primer

by Rotageek on 28 October 2022

People who work in the United Kingdom are protected by a well-established set of work scheduling laws – some key ones being the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) Working Time Regulations.

Having this legislation is really a good thing for everyone. It helps keep employees, customers, and the workplace much safer and happier.

The catch? As a manager or HR professional, it’s your job to actually implement them and make sure your schedules don’t fall foul of the law.

The penalties for breaking employee schedule laws are worth avoiding. They include a trip to a tribunal to agree compensation, unlimited fines, or even jail time.

Thankfully, Rotageek is here to help keep you straight in two ways. First, in this post we’re laying out all the core knowledge about:

  • How to follow work shift and schedule laws in the UK
  • What could happen if you break law
  • How you should handle employee disputes regarding rotas

…So you can have a better understanding of the law.

Second, our smart rota scheduling software can plan your rotas automatically, using artificial intelligence (AI) that keeps you firmly within the rules. If you’d like a quick demo, just click below or at the end of this article.

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How to follow UK law when planning your rotas

Work rota laws in the UK are described by the HSE’s Working Time Regulations (also known as the Working Time Directive), which were brought into law in 1998 and last amended in 2003. Here’s what they say and what they mean for your rotas.

Make sure you provide employees with rotas within “reasonable” time.

If your workplace uses a rota system, then you are legally obliged to provide employees with their rota within reasonable time.

The law doesn’t specify how many days or hours is “reasonable”, but:

  • For a one-off temporary shift change, 12-24 hours is generally considered acceptable
  • For a permanent change to a rota, the amount of time required can depend on the size of the business. Larger businesses are expected to give more notice of schedule changes.
Don’t schedule employees for more than 48 hours of work per week.

The law says most employees can’t work more than 48 hours a week on average.

That average is taken over 17 weeks for most workers. But it’s longer for some jobs, such as trainee doctors (26 weeks) and offshore gas and oil workers (52 weeks).

There are also jobs where the 48-hour rule doesn’t apply at all. They include jobs that require 48-hour staffing, security and surveillance jobs, and seafaring roles.

Individual employees in any kind of job can also opt out of the 48-hour rule.

Remember to include things like training and work-related travel in rotas.

All of these things count as working time:

  • job-related training
  • travel that’s part of the job (e.g. to a customer site or a non-fixed place of work)
  • paid overtime, or unpaid overtime the employee was asked to do
  • time spent on call at the workplace

Don’t exclude them from your rotas or records, or you could be in danger of breaking the regulations.

Give employees at 11 hours’ rest per day and a day off per week.

The regulations say employees have a right to an uninterrupted rest period of 11 hours per day. So, don’t schedule two shifts less than 11 hours apart.

Employees also have a right to a day off each week – that is one full day, or any uninterrupted 24-hour period.

Schedule 20-minute breaks as part shifts of six hours or more.

If they’re working a shift of six hours or more, your employees have a right to one 20-minute break. That’s the minimum – some businesses choose to offer longer breaks.

Always include these breaks in your rota – and remember that they don’t count as part of your employees’ working time.

Apply special measures for night workers.

Anyone who works between 11pm and 6am on most of their shifts is legally considered a night worker. You must:

  • Take all reasonable steps to ensure they work no more than eight hours per day.
  • Transfer them to day work where possible, if a doctor advises that night work is causing them health problems.

Do not move day workers to night work without their agreement

What happens if you break UK rota laws?

Rota disputes are common in many workplaces. Employees might also seek legal advice and a tribunal hearing if they feel their rights have been breached. 

Steps you can take to prevent and resolve disputes include:

  • Using a rota system that employees find fair
  • Handle disputes in house where possible, taking them seriously and resolving them as fairly as possible


Would you like to simplify workforce management?

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to UK work rota laws.

If you’d like to simplify the whole process, Rotageek can provide you with all the support and automations you need to get the perfect schedule every time.

Rotageek doesn’t just reduce the risk of breaking the law. It can also help you improve employee fairness sentiment by at least 4 points.

Click below to arrange a demo with one of our experts.

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