Sleep-ins judgment: Q&A

Today the Supreme Court has announced their ruling on a UNISON-backed case taken on behalf of a care worker member against her employer, Mencap.

What has happened at the Supreme Court?

Today saw the end of a long-running UNISON-backed case taken on behalf of care worker Clare Tomlinson-Blake against her former employer Mencap.  Ms Tomlinson-Blake argued that every hour of her sleep-in shifts should be paid at the rate of national minimum wage.

A sleep-in shift involves having access to sleeping facilities, and being allowed to sleep and providing care when required.

The Supreme Court ruled that for the purposes of the National Minimum Wage, the number of hours worked excludes the hours workers are permitted to sleep unless they are awake for the purpose of working.

Who this affected and where?

National Minimum Wage Regulations are applicable across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  The ruling applies across the UK for all staff doing sleep-in shifts in the care sector, and potentially similar sleep-in shifts in other sectors.

What is UNISON’s position?

Our position remains unchanged –  that workers should be paid NMW when they have to sleep at work. You are away from home, your family and friends. You cannot leave work – or could be disciplined if you did. And we know that sleep-ins carry significant responsibilities, as you might be the only person on hand for vulnerable people.

You should be paid at least NMW where you are required to intervene in serious situations, or when you take people to the toilet and administer medication. This ruling does not interfere with that right.

This ruling is yet another reminder of how care work is under-valued and underpaid.  The need for reform and proper funding of the care sector has never been more urgent and UNISON will not stop campaigning to win you fair pay.

How can I get advice and support from UNISON

If you are a UNISON member, contact your branch. Care members can also contact us at

How can I join UNISON?

You can join UNISON here

Does this mean my employer will cut my sleep-in shift pay?

There is no good reason for your employer to do this.  Just because a care employer might be able to get away with paying less than minimum wage to workers doing sleep-in shifts, it doesn’t mean that they should.

Doing so risks significant reputational damage for the employer. Any cuts to pay will be highlighted with care commissioning bodies, like local councils, who will have commissioned care suppliers on the basis of existing rates of pay.

We will now push the government for a change in the law to make it clear that sleep-in shifts should be considered working time.  We will also be contacting care employers and commissioners to make it clear there should be no cut in existing pay rates for already low paid care workers.

What should the government do to respond?

The UK and devolved governments need to take care of care workers.  During the pandemic, staff have put themselves in harm’s way to care for the elderly and the vulnerable.

The UK Government should immediately issue guidance to local authorities, the NHS and care employers making it clear that it is not acceptable to cut pay rates for sleep-in shifts. The care sector is already suffering from staff shortages. Any new attack on pay would be devastating.  New legislation should make it clear that every hour of a worker’s sleep-in shifts should be paid at the rate of national minimum wage.

How can I get involved in campaigning on this issue?

Please sign the petition and send a clear signal to the government that the fight for fair pay is not going away.

Sign our petition