Whether you own a bar, restaurant, retail store or salon, creating accurate and fair schedules for your employees is a difficult task. This guide aims to help you understand the potential impact on health and safety that unfair and possibly illegal scheduling can lead to. It will help you assist and comply with employee scheduling legislation, as well as how to combat and counter any associated illnesses with poor scheduling. This is not a legal document – for employment laws and regulations, see here.

Shift Work – A Definition

“Shift work” and “shift worker” – defined in Article 2 of Council Directive 93/104/EC as set out in the Sixth Schedule of the 1997 Act as follows: Shift work means any method of organising work in shifts whereby workers succeed each other at the same work stations according to a certain pattern, including a rotating pattern, and which may be continuous or discontinuous, entailing the need for workers to work at different times over a given period of days or weeks. Shift worker means any worker whose work schedule is part of shift work. “It is estimated that in Ireland approximately 15% or 270,000 of the working population of 1.8 million workers do shift and night work on a regular basis”

 The Potential Dangers of Night and Shift Work

There’s a large body of evidence behind the effects of badly scheduled night and shift work on employees. The most common effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Fatigue
  • Mistakes and accidents in work
  • Disruption to the internal body clock (circadian rhythms)

These effects do not happen or effect all night and shift workers, and when work schedules are properly managed, these risks can be minimised. Employee scheduling laws are designed to protect both employers and employees.

 Organisation of Working Time Act 1997

A very important piece of legislation, and one that every manager should be familiar with. Here are a few of the key takeaways from the Act.

  • An employee is entitled to a daily rest period of at least 11 hours in each period of 24 hours
  • An employee is entitled to a break of at least 15 minutes after working for 4.5 hours
  • An employee is entitled to a break of at least 30 minutes after working for 6 hours; this may include the 15 minute break referred to above.
  • Generally, an employee is granted a rest period of at least 24 consecutive hours in each period of 7 days, and this period is immediately preceded by the daily rest period of at least 11hours
  • In lieu of above, the employee is granted 2 rest periods of at least 24 hours each in the following period of 7 days
  • If the 2 periods are consecutive, they should be preceded by a daily rest period of at least 11 hours
  • If the periods are not consecutive, each should be preceded by a daily rest period of at least 11 hours

Shift Scheduling Guidelines

Avoid placing workers on permanent night shift

  • Plan a workload that can be reasonably completed within the length of the shift
  • Where possible, do not schedule dangerous, demanding or safety-critical work late at night or very early in the morning – where alertness is low.
  • If possible, offer your employees a choice between regular and rotating shifts
  • Allow workers some choice over when they take their break, within reason – and discourage workers not taking their break so that they can leave earlier.