Sunday working

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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Not sure of the rules around Sunday hours? Our guide explains the laws, and the process of opting in and out of Sunday working.

When it comes to the questions of: is Sunday a working day? The answer isn’t always straight forward. Usually, weekend workers are shop workers rather than office workers. In the UK, Sunday working laws or legislation are covered under the Sunday Working Act 1994 and the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA).

The ERA, specifically, provides retail and betting shop workers with the right to object to working on Sunday in certain circumstances. Although the Act refers to Sunday 'workers', this definition actually only applies to employees.

Employees that have been in shop work or in the betting industry since before 25th August 1994, and who are not employed solely to work on Sundays, are classed as 'protected workers'.

A protected worker has the right not to carry out Sunday work. An employee is classed as a protected worker if he or she:

  • cannot be required under their contract of employment to work on Sundays.
  • has been continuously employed as a shop worker by the employer since before 25 August 1994 and is not employed only to work on Sundays.
  • has been continuously employed as a betting worker by the employer since before 2 January 1995 and is not employed only to work on Sundays.

It should be noted that the last two provisions do not apply in Scotland.

Are Saturday and Sunday working days?

Saturday and Sunday aren’t classed as working days, unless stated in the employment contract.

Employees can be asked to work any day of the week, but you must confirm the working week in their contract.

Sunday working rights

Protected workers may expressly agree to Sunday working hours or on a particular Sunday. They will need to give their employer a signed and dated notice in writing of their wish to opt-in. A protected worker who opts-in to Sunday working will lose his or her protected status.

Employers are required to provide shop or betting workers with a written statement explaining their rights in relation to Sunday working. The prescribed wording of this statement is provided in section 42 of the ERA.

This statement must be given within two months of recruiting the shop or betting worker. If an employer does not provide this statement within the two-month period, the employee will only be required to provide one month's notice when providing an opt-out notice.

Sunday working hours

Employees who work Sundays are protected by the same regulations as any other day of the week. These rules state that works must have:

  • An 11-hour rest break between shifts.
  • A 24-hour rest break every seven-day period.
  • A 20-minute rest break for shifts longer than six hours.

It’s also recommended that you provide at least one weekend off in every three week period.

Large retail shops must also abide by Sunday trading laws.

Sunday trading laws mean most shops of over 280 square metres can only be open for six consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm. They must also close for Easter Sunday and Christmas Day.

Opting out of Sunday working

The law about not working on Sunday says that an employee can opt-out of Sunday working, provided his or her contract of employment requires, or may require, them to work on Sundays and does not require him or her to work only on Sundays.

An employee who intends to opt-out of Sunday working must give his or her employer three months' notice, in writing, signed and dated, confirming his or her objection to Sunday working.

After a period of three months (beginning on the day on which the opt-out notice was given), the employer can no longer require that employee to work on Sundays. The notice period is reduced to one month where an employer has failed to issue the employee with a statement of his or her rights in relation to Sunday working.

Employees can still be required by their employer to work on Sunday during their opt-out notice period. Once this three-month period passes, the employer cannot require that employee to work on Sundays or on a particular Sunday.

In the absence of any contractual term requiring the employer to offer work on alternative days, the employer will be under no obligation to provide an opted-out employee with work on alternative days.

An employee who has previously opted-out of Sunday working can subsequently choose to opt-in to working on Sundays or to work a particular Sunday.

Can I refuse to work Sundays on religious grounds?

Employees can request to not work on Sundays due to religious reasons, but you don’t automatically have to agree to their refusal.

If it’s not feasible for you to allow them the time off, you can deny the request. However, you must give the request proper consideration, and you can’t refuse it for any discriminatory reasons.

Opting in

The working on Sunday law states that an employee who intends to opt-in to Sunday working must give his or her employer notice, in writing, signed and dated, confirming they wish to work on Sundays or they do not object to Sunday working.

Once the notice has been given, the employer can require that employee to work some or all Sundays.

An employee who has opted-in to working Sundays can choose at a later date to opt-out of Sunday working again, although they will have to provide further notice.

Expert support on working hours with Peninsula

Employees have the right to opt-out, or opt-in to Sunday working. And as an employer you’re required to give these requests proper consideration.

This is a statutory right and you mustn’t discriminate against employees for making these requests. For example, Employees who have opted-out, or propose to opt-out, of Sunday working must not be dismissed or selected for redundancy for those reasons.

Failing to give opt-out requests the proper consideration, or treating people different because they’ve made that request could lead to employment tribunals and costly legal fees.

Peninsula can help you with the rules on working hours, and our expert team can draft employment contracts to keep you within the law.

Not a Peninsula client? Take a free advice call from one of our business experts. Simply call us on 0800 028 2420.


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