The Government relaxed the Sunday Trading rules for the 8 week period covering the Olympic and Paralympic Games and has now indicated that it may be willing to consider a permanent change to those rules. This has raised the question in respect of what it means for businesses in respect of staffing and whether employees can be required to work additional hours on a Sunday.
It is important to remember that the restrictions only applied to shops of more than 280 square metres (3,000 square feet) and meant that they could only be open for trade for a maximum of six hours on a Sunday between 10am and 6pm. This has never meant that employees couldn’t be asked to work on Sundays or that they could only work for a maximum of 6 hours, it simply restricted the period of time within which the shop was able to trade with the public.
The Sunday Trading rules have no impact on the contracts of employment. Whether or not an employee can be required to work Sundays at all will depend on the terms and conditions. Shop and betting workers have some specific rights in respect of Sunday working.
Shop workers have the right not to work on Sundays, unless they were employed to work Sundays only, if they started their employment on or before 26th August 1994 (2nd January 1995 for betting workers). If employment started on or after these dates any employees who are required by contract to work on a Sunday can give three months' notice to their employer, in writing, that they are opting out of Sunday work. This is reduced to 1 month if the contractual obligation to work on Sundays was not provided within 2 months of starting work. These employees can, of course, opt-in to working on Sundays.
However, the rules governing Sunday working concern whether or not an employee can be required to work on Sunday at all. They have no bearing on how many hours an employee who works Sunday can be required to work. The number of hours, and the rate of pay for those hours, is governed solely by the contract. If employees are required to work in accordance with a set rota then they can be asked to work any shifts within the hours defined under their contract. However, when setting shifts employers should take into account any restrictions employees may have due to caring responsibilities or religious concerns as they should for shifts on all other days.
Employers are already able to ask their employees to work in excess of 6 hours on a Sunday, this is not something new. Many stores will have employees in before they are due to open and after they are due to close. The Sunday Trading rules simply govern when the shop can trade with the public. The considerations for businesses are to make sure that, if they decide to open extra hours, they have the right number of staff in at those times to serve customers and to determine whether exercising this option is cost effective for them.
By Ellen Singer
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