Guide to Work Rota Laws & Labour Compliance in the UK for Small Businesses

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  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: March 14, 2023
  • 10 Minutes
Guide to Work Rota Laws & Labour Compliance in the UK for Small Businesses

Implementing a good office rota that satisfies everyone is challenging. As a business owner, it’s important for the long-term health of the company that you not only make sure the schedule allows you to operate profitably, but also that you maintain a productive, healthy workplace.

In this guide, we will look at the legal obligations you need to meet when it comes to staff rota scheduling, as well as providing general tips for creating the best legally compliant rota patterns for your company.

Let’s begin.

What is a staff rota?

The word “rota” comes from the Latin word for wheel and was adopted in the early 17th century to refer to the repetitive nature of when an employee is scheduled to work.

A staff rota — also called a schedule or sometimes a roster— is a list of employees and associated information, such as:

  1. Shifts worked or to be worked.
  2. Location the employee is to work at.
  3. Responsibilities (e.g., answering calls, preparing food, etc.).
  4. Tasks to be undertaken by staff.

At its core, a staff rota keeps everyone organized and on track so that your business can run smoothly and efficiently.

Why is good scheduling important?

An employee schedule (or rota) contains each employee’s hours when they work. Some staff schedules include the locations, and the tasks being done for offsite businesses. This makes them complex.

By making employee scheduling an easy process for both employers and employees, a business will save a lot of time and frustration. It is important to maintain a fair employee schedule to create employee satisfaction and when employees are satisfied, they are more likely to be productive. 

The main benefits of good employee scheduling are:

  1. A decrease in employee turnover – When employees like their schedule, they are less likely to look elsewhere for work. 
  2. Easier payroll – Employee scheduling and time tracking go hand-in-hand. By using the right system (like our trusted scheduling and HR software packages) for scheduling, payroll can become an easy process. 
  3. Increases productivity – The right employee schedule allows employees to remain on task and doing exactly what they should be doing each day. 
  4. Less issues with operating the business – Having the right employees scheduled at the right time ensures that a business runs smoothly. 

What are the work rota laws in the UK?

There are many rules and regulations that govern scheduling in the workplace. Some are laws handed out by the government and others may be set out by governing bodies and be specific to the sector the business works.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 is the main law for scheduling and applies to employees in all sectors across the UK. It stipulates a variety of rules that must be followed, including:

  • Workers should not work more than an average of 48 hours each week. However, individuals have the right to opt out of this agreement if they wish to work more, provided they give their employer written notice and they are over 18 years old.
  • Employees should be given 11 consecutive hours off between shifts.
  • Employees should have one day off every seven days.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also states that employers must provide ‘suitable’ rest facilities for employees who are working through their breaks. Again, ‘suitable’ is a vague legal term and will vary from work place to work place.

Employers are also required to keep full records of the hours worked by staff and make sure these are accurate. You can do this with our best-selling and comprehensive shift management software.

How much notice do I have to give for schedule changes?

In the UK, you are required by law to provide employees with a work rota in advance. “Advance” is a woolly legal term that sets out no minimum or maximum amount of time for giving out shift schedules. It is important, however, that rotas are not dished out at the last minute or staff may become frustrated or even look to take the business to a tribunal.

If you are unsure whether employees will be able to cover certain shifts, you should put into place an effective communication system so staff can get in touch and let you know when they are available. 

Employees should also have clear guidelines on what happens when an employee calls in sick or needs to book time off for holidays etc.

Is a rota a legal document?

Yes. Although there is no specific law covering the publishing of work rotas, they are considered an essential part of planning and allocating staff.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 state that all employees have the right to know their working schedules in advance. The same goes for any changes that may occur during the course of the rota period. If you are managing a team, it will fall upon you to ensure that this is carried out effectively.

What about staff that work unsociable hours?

By law, if staff works at least 3 hours during the night (legally between 11 pm to 6 am), they are considered a night worker. Staff have no legal right to more pay for night shifts, but many businesses enhance the wages of night workers due to the tricky nature of the hours they work. 

Legally young workers aged between 16 and 17 cannot work later than 10 pm, so they won’t be entitled to work night shifts.

On top of this, night workers must not work over 8 hours in any 24-hour period.

What about scheduling laws for temporary employees?

Temporary employees are entitled to the same working conditions and benefits as permanent employees in comparable roles. For example, they should have the same hourly working conditions, rate of pay and holidays entitlement (pro-rated) as a permanent worker unless a business can justify less favourable treatment on business grounds.

A comparative permanent employee in these circumstances is an employee not on a fixed term contract, employed by the same employer in the same establishment and undertaking the same or similar job.

What about rest breaks? What does the law say about them?

Legally, there are three types of work breaks you must provide to your employees.

  • Rest breaks at work – Employees who work for more than 6 hours are entitled to a 20-minute rest break.
  • Daily rest breaks – Between working days, employees have the right to at least 11 hours of rest.
  • Weekly rest break – Employees must have an uninterrupted 24 hours without work each week or an uninterrupted 48 hours without work each fortnight.

Can I change a rota without notice?

The short answer is yes. You can change employees’ working hours, including shift patterns if their contract allows it. If the contract sets out fixed working hours, then you will not be able to change shifts.

It’s important to note that changing employee shifts with little notice can dangerously affect their health, well-being, and productivity.

What about if employees work hours beyond their usual shifts?

In the UK, employers do not have to pay workers for overtime, so long as their average pay for the total number of hours they work doesn’t fall below the minimum wage. An employer may choose to pay more than the normal hourly rate at their discretion. As is often the case, whether an employer pays extra for overtime comes down to what they have writing in their employment contracts. 

Equally, an employee cannot be forced to work overtime unless their contract states that they have to. 

Where are good places to read up about work rota laws in the UK?

There are many resources available regarding employment law in the UK. Your local book shop will stock dozens of titles regarding the subject.

If you want free advice, the Internet is chock full of advice. Here are a few websites to check out:

    1. The Citizens Advice Bureau – The Citizens Advice Bureau has long been a font of knowledge for employment law. Their website contains many useful bits of information regarding the regulations that affect rota and schedule creation.
    2. The Law Society – The law society is another helpful resource for understanding employment law. Again, their website includes many helpful guides. They can also point you toward a solicitor, if you need one.
    3. The Government website – These days the government publish many guides and useful information on their own website. These guides contain useful information with many focussing on employment law.
    4. Solicitors’ websites – While solicitors’ websites are often hit and miss (they are trying to sell their services after all), some provide useful information. Many companies publish employment regulation guides on their web pages. A quick search on Google can provide a wealth of information.

What does the law say about moving an employee from day to night shifts?

Changing to and from night shifts is a tricky situation legally. A business may need employees to work in the evening because of demand in their industry. Alternatively, they may need to bring night shift staff in during the day. 

But just switching an employee’s shift isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. If an employee’s contract doesn’t state they have to do night work or day shifts, you can’t just change their shifts. Normally they would need to agree to change their hours beforehand.

How are rota disputes managed?

Rota disputes are common in any business and are often dealt with in house. With little legal framework, it is important for businesses to have clearly defined ways of resolving issues.

If a dispute arises regarding a rota, the first port of call should be with the person who drew it up. They are often the person with the most knowledge and the ability to make changes. If this brings no joy, a way of raising the issue with a member of management needs to be in place. 

If the schedule breaches the employee’s rights, then they could seek legal advice and may even look to take their employer to tribunal.

Are there any best practices for creating employee schedules?

No matter what system of employee scheduling you use, there are several things you can do to make the task easier. Here are a few in more detail:

a. Publish as far in advance as possible

Publish rotas as far ahead as possible. This will allow staff to plan ahead and will prevent last minute issues occurring. 

It can also help if you encourage staff to request leave or other absences with plenty of notice, giving you more time to manage requests and fill gaps. 

b. Understand the best way to communicate scheduling to staff

Have a good system of communicating schedules and rota changes to staff. Sticking a paper-based rota on a notice board behind a door is often a great way to have it overlooked. Use electronic forms of communication if possible. Most automatic rota scheduling software (like our best-selling all in one software package) will do this automatically.

Once you’ve figured out the best way to communicate rotas and shift changes with employees, be consistent. This will reduce miscommunication and make it clear to employees how they can see their schedules.

c. Clarify who handles scheduling

It’s important to clarify exactly which team leaders are responsible for different aspects of rota management to avoid miscommunication. In a larger business you may have multiple staff members responsible for scheduling, for example one staff member responsible for leave requests and another for sickness management. 

d. Have a contingency plan for when things go wrong

It’s smart to have a series of contingency plans in place for ‘rota emergencies’. Make sure these are documented in easy to find and understand policy documents. These plans will allow you stay calm when you’re suddenly short-staffed or have an unforeseen increase in work orders. 

What is the best way to comply with rota legal obligations?

The best way to comply with scheduling regulations is by using a planner tool that automatically creates and calculates compliant schedules.

Our employee scheduling software aims to streamline scheduling by reducing paperwork and providing a straightforward and legally compliant platform to get rotas done. Give it a whirl today and see how much easier your scheduling could become.

In conclusion

Getting scheduling right so the business runs smoothly, staff are happy, and the company is legally compliant can be a nightmare. But with a little help from our guide, we hope you now find the task easier to handle.

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Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)