What are the rules and regulations for Sunday working? Image of woman someone hanging up an open sign

Not everyone enjoys working on a Sunday. If you’re asked to work a Sunday, the key question is, do you have to? Here’s a run-down of all your Sunday working rights.

It will, of course, depend on what your contract says! If your contract says you have to work on a Sunday then you’ll have to, when asked, unless you fall into one of the groups below.

If your contract doesn’t mention working on a Sunday, you’d need a change to your contract that’s agreed by both parties before you should work on a Sunday. If you don’t agree to this change, this could be a breach of contract and you could make a claim to an Employment Tribunal.

When you don’t have to work Sundays

In the following situations you may not have to work on a Sunday:

  • If you’re a shop worker who has been with the same employer since before 26th August 1994, you’re protected from having to work on Sundays and don’t need to (unless you want to). If you’re a betting worker who has been with the same employer since before 3rd January 1995, you’re protected also. You can, of course, give up this protection and work on Sundays by giving your employer a written ‘opt in’ notice and agreeing what Sunday’s you’re willing to work. These rules don’t apply in Scotland. If you ‘opt in’, you can change your mind at any time and ‘opt out’ (giving the notice that your employer requires)
  • If you’re employed as a shop worker or a betting worker in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, you have the right to refuse to work on a Sunday by ‘opting out’ (you need to give one or three months notice to do this - see explanation below - but you don’t need to give a reason for doing so). If you don’t want to work on a Sunday and ‘opt out’, you’re then protected against dismissal, selection for redundancy, and other unfair treatment (e.g. refusal of promotion or training) that may occur as a result. You can take a case to an Employment Tribunal if any of these occur
  • If you ‘opt out’ of Sunday working your employer doesn’t have to offer you extra work on other days instead
  • You must be given the option to ‘opt out’ of Sunday working within two months of starting work (and you then need to give three months notice to opt out). If you are not given this option when you start work then you will only need to give one months notice to ‘opt out’.
  • There’s no service length requirement to be eligible for these Sunday rules
  • These rules obviously don’t apply if you’re employed to work only on a Sunday
  • ‘Large’ shops are defined as those with an internal floor area of 280 square metres or more (parts of the shops that is not used for serving customers, including selling and displaying goods, doesn’t count towards this area)
  • If you’re a practising Christian who has strong feelings about Sunday working, you should explain this to your employer, who should try to meet your requests (or they may be found to have discriminated against you for your religious beliefs).

Enterprise Bill 2016

Although the government’s plans to devolve Sunday trading hours to local authorities was defeated in 2016 (see below), there were changes in the Enterprise Bill 2016 to give shop workers more rights, which were passed by Parliament.

These changes included:

  • reducing the three month notice period to opt out of Sunday working to one month for staff who work in large shops
  • workers will be entitled not to work more hours on Sunday beyond their ‘normal Sunday working hours’ by giving an objection notice to their employer.

However, these new rights (in Section 5 of the EA 2016) have never been enacted into law, which they were expected to be in October 2016. They’re clearly not government priority at the moment, and as of May 2019, they’ve still not been enacted, and so at the moment do not apply.

Will you get more money for working on Sundays (or time off in lieu)?

This depends on what your employer agrees – they don’t have to pay you more legally.

What rest breaks should I get if I work on a Sunday?

If you work on a Sunday, you’re covered by normal Working Time Directive rules, which are the need to have an 11-hour rest break between shifts, a 24 hour rest break in each seven day period (of 48 hours in each 14 days), and a 20 minute rest break if your shift is longer than six hours.

However, your employer is also advised (although these are not legal requirements) to:

  • Give you at least one weekend in three off
  • Give you reasonable notice if they change your shift patterns.

What are the Sunday Trading rules in England and Wales?

  • Large shops with over 280 square metres or more of floor space have legal restrictions on their opening hours. Most can only open on a Sunday for a continuous period of six hours between 10am and 6pm. They’re also not allowed to open on Easter Sunday or Christmas Day
  • Some shops are exempt from these rules, including off-licences, airports, railways, service station outlets, farm shops, some pharmacies, and exhibition stands
  • Small shops are free to open when they choose.

Consultation on reforming Sunday Trading Laws started on 5th August 2015 and continued until 16th September 2015. This was intended to give powers to local areas to allow larger shops to open for longer on Sundays in England and Wales. However, the government were defeated in their plans to reform Sunday Trading Laws on 9th March 2016, and you can read the details here (from The Guardian).

If you are an Employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issues then talk to Lesley at The HR Kiosk – a Human Resources Consultancy for small businesses – our fees are low to reflect the pressures on small businesses and you can hire us for as much time as you need.

Please note that the advice given on this website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.

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Lesley Furber
HR Consultant
Updated on
February 20, 2020

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