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Relaxing Sunday Trading Laws

Mon 12 Oct 2015

This article first appeared in Drapers Online on 8 October 2015.

Harriet Vaines - Winckworth Sherwood - Employment Law

The rise of online shopping has changed the retail space beyond recognition. Consumers expect to be able to buy what they want, when they want, making it ever harder for high street retailers to compete.

The Government is proposing to relax the Sunday trading rules by devolving the power to extend Sunday trading hours to local areas.

Currently, most large stores (those with a relevant floor area exceeding 280 square metres) are restricted to just six hours of Sunday trading. The proposal inevitably divides opinion whether you are a retailer, a worker or a consumer. 

For the operators of large stores, the benefits are clear. But what can an employer do if employees object to working longer hours on Sundays?

The starting point is the employment contract. Any unilateral change would be a breach of contract; but if your employee’s contract states, for example, that the employee will work 35 hours per week, with the flexibility to divide those hours over any days, then extending the  employee’s hours on a Sunday, whilst  reducing them elsewhere, may not present an issue. However, if the employee is contracted to work, for example, Monday to Saturday or only on particular hours on a Sunday, the employer is likely to need the employee’s express agreement to vary those terms. 

Employees also have the right to opt out of working on Sundays, unless Sunday is the only day they have been employed to work on. The employee must give 3 months’ notice that they wish to opt out of Sunday working. An employer who needs staff to work on Sundays must tell them in writing that they have the right to opt out.

Consideration should also be given to an employee’s reasons for objecting to working on Sundays or during particular hours on Sundays.  If this is due to religious or other family or cultural commitments, they may be able to rely on the protection of discrimination and equality legislation. Staff who opt out of Sunday working must not be treated unfairly.

Owners of large stores may not be able to trade to longer hours immediately after any relaxation in the law. It may be necessary to apply to relevant local authorities to relax any planning or licensing restrictions. Properties may also be subject to restrictive covenants or lease provisions that limit Sunday trading. Early advice should be taken to ensure that if the Sunday trading laws are relaxed, the store is legally able to trade to the new extended hours.


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