Telling the truth about SME life today

What Are Unsociable Hours And Do You Have To Pay More

What Are Unsociable Hours And Do You Have To Pay More

Unsociable working hours typically refer to those, outside the 9 a.m. 5 p.m. schedule, although there isn’t a strict legal definition. While these hours can present challenges to employees, there is no requirement for employers in the UK to provide additional pay for them. Saying that understanding and addressing unsociable hours can have a significant and positive impact on the success of your business.

Keep reading to learn more about standard working hours the regulations surrounding them and the considerations regarding compensation.

Defining Unsociable Hours

There isn’t an exact or legal definition in place but generally, unsocial hours are considered to be anything outside of the standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday. However, as what is considered “standard” in the context of a working day can vary greatly depending on individual businesses, industries and their specific operations, it’s impossible to create a universal definition of unsociable hours.

Perspectives Based on Business Requirements

Perspectives Based on Business Requirements

Let’s take an example of a company that operates within business hours from 9 am to 5 pm. For this company, any time outside of this schedule may be seen as non-standard or unsociable since it falls when most employees would typically be off work and enjoying their free time.

On the other hand, a business with operating hours from 8 am to 10 pm would likely consider anything after 10 pm as unsociable hours. Different industries will also have varying perspectives on what unsociable hours look like, making it tough to create a universal definition.

For example in sectors like healthcare and hospitality that operate 24/7, the concept of hours will be different from an office environment. Similarly, retail workers might have extended working hours during busy periods like Christmas, which affects their perception of what constitutes unsociable hours.

The changing landscape of work patterns has also made it increasingly difficult to define what is considered unsociable. With the rise of work and flexible schedules, more people are opting for work arrangements that suit their lifestyles and commitments moving away, from the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. – weekday framework.

As a result of these differing perspectives, the definition of unsociable hours generally comes down to agreements between employees and employers to set when unsociable hours fall in the scope of the contract of employment and individual working schedules.

Exploring the Pay Aspect

Legal Requirements and Minimum Wage

There is no legal obligation for employers to offer higher pay for unsociable hours. The primary responsibility that employers have is to ensure that employees are paid at least the minimum wage appropriate to their age. To put this into context, starting from 1 April 2021, the stipulation is that employees who are 23 years of age or older are entitled to a minimum hourly wage of £8.91. The National Minimum wage is renewed annually on April 1st.

Age-Based Wage Rates

The National Minimum wage varies by age and whether an individual is involved in an apprenticeship program.

National Living Wage (age 23+)£9.50£10.42
Adult rate (age 21-22)£9.18£10.18
Development rate (age 18-20)£6.83£7.49
Young workers rate (age 16-17)£4.81£5.28
Apprentice rate£4.81£5.28

When it comes to wages there is also a discussion, about the concept of a “living wage.” This refers to a rate established by the Living Wage Foundation, which aims to reflect the cost of living. The recommended living wage rates are £9.50 per hour for individuals outside of London and £10.85 for those in the capital city taking into account the cost of living in London.

Many businesses choose to pay the Living wage over the minimum wage as an incentive to their employees. They may also choose to pay increased rates of pay for hours that they define as unsociable hours which can be helpful in attracting employees for irregular shifts or difficult-to-fill hours.

To recap, while the law establishes minimum wage requirements it doesn’t mandate pay due for working during hours that are considered non-standard or unsociable. Some employers choose to offer enhanced compensation while others strictly adhere to the wage.

Understanding Night Shifts; Are They Always Unsociable?

A night shift typically refers to working between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. To be considered a night shift worker an individual usually needs to work three hours within this time frame. However, it’s important to note that this definition isn’t set in stone and can have some flexibility based on agreement, between employer and employee.

Both employers and employees have the freedom to mutually change and agree upon schedules that deviate from the traditional definition of a night shift as long as the revised shift spans a minimum of seven hours including the core period from midnight to 5 a.m. This level of flexibility is crucial as it allows businesses to tailor their operations according to varying needs and demands while also prioritising the well-being of their employees.

Perception of Social Isolation

While night shifts are often seen as unsociable hours by many, there are plenty of employees who actually prefer this schedule for various reasons. Some of these reasons include avoiding traffic, managing family responsibilities or managing several job roles.

Employers managing night shifts need to find the balance between maintaining service continuity while also considering the needs and preferences of their employees. Effective communication, agreements and taking into account the circumstances of their staff, can all contribute to creating a positive work environment during these unconventional hours.

Striking a balance between business needs and employee preferences requires consideration and open dialogue in order to create a productive work environment.

Considering The Living Wage

The National living hourly wage is set at £9.50 for areas outside of London and £10.85 within the capital. These guidelines acknowledge that living costs can vary depending on where one resides, in London. The aim is to ensure that employees can maintain a standard of living in their geographic location.

The Living Wage Foundation plays a role in advocating for wage standards that enable workers to lead a decent life. Their recommendations are based on real-world assessments of living costs and employers who adopt these guidelines voluntarily commit to promoting employee well-being through compensation.

The Evolution Towards 24/7 Operations

There is a growing trend towards around-the-clock operations. While unsociable hours used to be associated with emergency services and healthcare providers, nowadays sectors like finance, retail and tourism are also part of the 24/7 economy.

The flexibility afforded by remote work has also contributed to a change in perceptions around unsociable hours. With more employees opting to work during these hours by choice, to fit in around their hobbies, family lives and other responsibilities, the requirement for companies to offer extra benefits such as higher pay for night shifts has been reduced.

As a result, the distinction, between unsociable hours has become less significant for many and understanding this dynamic is essential for business owners as the workforce continues to evolve towards more non-traditional working arrangements.

Is Additional Pay for Unsociable Hours Justified?

While existing laws enforce rest periods between shifts, for night workers they do not mandate higher pay rates. Although some progressive businesses voluntarily offer increased pay as an incentive to attract staff during standard hours, such practices are not as widespread as they used to be.

Given the well-documented health issues that can be faced when working regular unsociable hours, it’s fair to question whether additional pay for working these hours is actually justified, despite the move away from additional compensation.

Are There Any Health Considerations, For Those Who Work Night Shifts?

Are There Any Health Considerations, For Those Who Work Night Shifts

Regular night shifts can significantly impact an individual’s health. Therefore it is essential to prioritise the well-being of workers who undertake shifts. Working night shifts can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm, leading to several health concerns. Key issues include:

  1. Sleep Disorders: Night shift workers often face difficulties in sleeping, leading to chronic fatigue and reduced cognitive function.
  2. Mental Health Issues: The altered sleep-wake cycle can elevate the risk of depression, anxiety, and stress.
  3. Cardiovascular Problems: There’s an associated increase in the risk of heart disease and hypertension.
  4. Metabolic Disorders: Irregular work hours can lead to metabolic imbalances, raising the risk of obesity and diabetes.
  5. Digestive Issues: Altered meal timings can result in gastrointestinal problems like indigestion and acid reflux.
  6. Weakened Immune System: The combination of stress and lack of quality sleep can compromise the immune system, making individuals more prone to infections.

Can Employers And Employees Agree On Hours For Night Shifts?

Employers and employees have the flexibility to come to an agreement on hours for night shifts. However, it is important that these agreements be documented in writing and comply with regulations to ensure understanding and adherence.

What Distinguishes The Minimum Wage From The Living Wage?

There is a distinction between the two. The minimum wage is a requirement that employers must adhere to whereas the living wage is a commitment that typically exceeds the minimum wage. It reflects calculations based on the cost of living.


Unsociable hours generally refer to those outside of typical working hours of 9-5 weekday pattern however, as the definition of traditional working hours varies between sector and company, and the rise of flexible working blurs the lines between traditional working hours, there isn’t a legal mandate for what counts as unsociable hours. Similarly, there is no mandated additional pay for unsociable hours, only that the minimum wage must be met.

Many employers do choose to pay more than the National Minimum wage and also offer increased rates of pay for hours they deem to be unsociable but this should all be documented in an employee’s contract of employment.



Related Stories

More From

Most Read


If you enjoyed this article,
why not join our newsletter?

We promise only quality content, tailored to suit what our readers like to see!