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Night work, shift work and period based work

Updated: 12.11.2020

Night work is carried out in several service sector workplaces. Work is also done in shifts, although it is not always actual shift work as referred to in the Working Hours Act (605/1996).

According to the Working Hours Act, shift work is a working hours scheme where shifts vary regularly and change over specific periods of time as agreed in advance. The most common shift work arrangements are two- and three-shift schemes, the latter of which generally involves night work.

Depending on individual circumstances, shift work offers advantages for employees, such as longer periods of free time and additional pay. However, shift work is associated with changes in sleep patterns and sleep-wake rhythm, which may have negative effects on social life, while irregular working hours tend to put more strain on the human body than usual. Adequate sleep, regular and healthy meals, physical exercise and other healthy lifestyles are crucial in terms of health and energy levels. Regular health checks may also contribute to preventing health issues.

Period-based work refers to arrangements where working hours are averaged over a three-week period with up to 120 hours or over a two-week period with up to 80 hours. A good example of period-based work is working in the restaurant sector.

Night work refers to work carried out between 11:00 pm and 6:00 am. In period-based work arrangements, a night shift means a shift with at least three hours falling between 11:00 pm and 06:00 am. The maximum numbers of consecutive and weekly night shifts are restricted by law and various collective agreements.

Employers are not free to assign night work as they please; it is only allowed in the situations and types of work listed in section 26 of the Working Hours Act. The list is exhaustive, which means that it covers all situations where night work is allowed. In some sectors, night work arrangements have been specified as part of collective agreements. As a general rule, it is prohibited to assign night work to young workers aged under 18.

When a shift starts or ends between 11:00 pm and 06:00 am, the employer may also be obliged under Government Decision No. 869/1996 to arrange transport to and from work in cases where public transport is not reasonably available in the location in question and where the employee is not in a position to use their own car.

Night work puts more physical and psychological strain on employees than daytime work. There may be considerable individual differences in adjusting to night work. In addition to individual characteristics, factors affecting the amount of strain include family relationships and longer commuting times.

Government Decree No. 1485/2001 governing medical examinations in work that presents a special risk of illness also states that night work may cause a special risk of illness, which means that night workers must undergo a medical examination at the employer’s expense. Establishing any general and individual health issues that may be caused by night work is part of the workplace survey carried out by the occupational health care provider.

In some cases, it may be necessary to provide an employee with an opportunity to change work assignments or to transfer the employee from night work to daytime hours, if this helps prevent risks to the employee’s health. The need to change assignments may be temporary, due to reasons such as a course of medication or pregnancy, or it may be permanent.

The right of employees to change their working hours or assignments also depends on factors such as the scope of the company’s operations, its production methods and number of employees. Larger workplaces will often have better opportunities to arrange such changes. In other words, this provision does not bestow an absolute right on employees to transfer from night work to daytime hours. The need to change work assignments should be assessed in consultation with the occupational health care provider.

Further information (in Finnish)

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health
Young Workers Act (998/1993), section 7

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