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Shift work: what are the advantages and disadvantages?

Shift work is often of purely economic importance to employers, as a way of increasing production and profit or meeting social demand. But there are industries where there is no other option than shift work. What does this type of work bring to the employee? What to look out for and what are its advantages?

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According to statistics, more than a quarter of people in the Czech Republic work in shifts. Typically, these are industrial production, trade and healthcare. Shift working allows the employer to ensure better use of the company’s resources and capacities and to maximise production, or to ensure that the public or societal need for its services (police, healthcare) is met. Shift working involves additional health and safety regulations and extra care must be taken to ensure that everything is carried out in accordance with the law.

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The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is currently coming up with the most extensive amendment to the Labour Code in recent years. It responds to the current trend of teleworking by providing clearer rules. Changes will also be made to the processes of service of process at the workplace, and clarification of rights will also await those working on agreements outside the employment relationship. We have presented the planned amendment in more detail in our article.

Types of shift operation

Single shift operation

A single-shift work arrangement is one in which an employee works only one type of shift without regular rotation of employees between shifts. Typically this is office work or office work. At the same time, however, there may be an uneven distribution of working time. For single-shift working arrangements, the basic 40-hour week applies.

Two-shift operation

In a two-shift operation, employees work in two different shifts, alternating within a 24-hour period. They use a reduced working time of 38.75 hours per week. It differs from continuous working arrangements in that the employer’s operation is limited to the working week and employees are usually given regular uninterrupted rest on Saturdays and Sundays.

Three-shift operation

This issimilar to a two-shift system, except that employees regularly rotate through three shifts within 24 consecutive hours. They are entitled to a reduced working time of 37,5 hours per week. However, weekends are generally free.

Specifics of night work

Shift work is accompanied by night work, which takes place between 10 pm and 6 am. By law, underage workers, pregnant women and mothers up to the end of the ninth month after childbirth are not allowed to work at night. Breastfeeding mothers can apply for a day job. The employer is obliged to grant such a request.

If an employee works at night for at least three hours, he shall be entitled to wages and a supplement of at least ten per cent of his average earnings.

Continuous operation

Continuous operation requires the involvement of workers seven days a week and 24 hours a day who rotate on the job so that it can be operated around the clock. The weekly working time pool is 37.5 hours per employee.

Under the Labour Code, the employer is required to provide the employee with at least 12 hours of uninterrupted rest between shifts during a 24-hour period and at the same time uninterrupted weekly rest of at least 35 hours during each period of seven consecutive calendar days.

Tip: Have you ever come across the term “working time fund“? Don’t look for anything complicated behind it. You can read what exactly is behind this phrase, how we record working time and what a timesheet looks like in our article.

Working around the clock automatically raises questions: what about working weekends, holidays or possible overtime?
If the operation does not allow a complete shutdown of production, the employer works every day, regardless of whether it is a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday. Work is scheduled on the basis of a shift schedule and employees may be ordered to work on weekends or public holidays. Thus, the employer cannot avoid paying extra for working at night, on weekends or on public holidays.

In compensation for working on a public holiday, the employee may be given time off in lieu or be paid for the work with a holiday premium. However, if the holiday fell on a day on which the employee was not scheduled to work a shift and took uninterrupted rest during the week, then the employee is not entitled to any premium pay or compensatory time off. Example:

Our Consultation with a Lawyer service was used by Mrs. Vera, who works in the hospital on a twelve-hour shift. Their employer always schedules a long and short week. However, according to Ms Vera, the employer adds a few extra shifts per month, which she does not agree with. In total, she estimates that she works approximately 200 hours per month, with a working time pool of 37.5 hours. The question was whether the employer has the right to do this.

The working time pool is the time you are supposed to spend at work according to your employment contract. For employees with two-shift, three-shift and continuous working patterns, the weekly pool is typically reduced from the normal 40 hours to 37.5 or 38.5 hours. If working hours are set unevenly (long and short weeks), the pool should be filled over a longer period, i.e. when the scheduled hours for all weeks are added together and divided by the number of weeks. For example, if an employee works 45 hours in one week and 30 hours in another, then on average the weekly pool of 37.5 hours is met. However, if this calculation results in more hours worked, then the work schedule may be wrong. However, the employer also has the right to order overtime, up to 8 hours per week and 150 hours per year in total. In the health professions, these limits are sometimes exceeded.

In a simple calculation, multiply the weekly working time pool by the number of weeks in a year (52) to obtain the number of hours per year (1950), then divide by 12 to obtain the optimal number of hours per month, which in this case is 162.5. If Ms Vera works an average of 200 hours per month, then her employer is significantly exceeding the limits set by labour law. We advised Ms Vera to speak out against this practice and helped her to write an argument for her employer.

Let’s summarize the advantages and disadvantages of shift work or continuous operation. The advantages include:

  • More free time – Shift or continuous workers work a similar number of hours as office workers (or a maximum of 2.5 hours less per week). However, if the shifts are 12-hour shifts, for example, then grouping them into larger units will allow for more time off in the form of longer weekends or generally uninterrupted rest.
  • Work-life balance: we may not associate shift work with this term and it can sometimes seem contradictory. In this context, we mean the benefits of working specifically in a workplace where certain types of shifts (e.g. night shifts) can be chosen in advance. This will allow, for example, a student with a full-time study or people with other commitments to better organise their lives.
  • More money: more money can be expected compared to an identical job in a single-shift operation. Shift work or continuous work, including weekend or night work, usually involves extra pay and higher salaries. On the other hand, shift work is often associated with blue-collar jobs, which are not always the best paid.

Disadvantages include:

  • Demanding: Shift work is usually associated with physically demanding work, such as factory work or health care.
  • Impact on social and family life: Not being able to choose preferred shifts (e.g. night only or morning only) can make it very difficult to coordinate work with family or social life.
  • Health risks: Working around the clock can cause health risks such as sleep disturbances, fatigue, stress and digestive disorders. This work can also be associated with a higher risk of accidents and injuries.
  • Unpredictability: Three-shift operation brings considerable variability, causing regular disruptions to the normal routine. This is associated with the aforementioned impacts on social life and individual health.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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