Can retailers require employees to work on Sundays during the Olympics?

Although trading rules have been relaxed to enable shops to open on Sundays, the employee protections relating to Sunday working have not. Laura Jamieson, a member of the employment team at law firm Dundas & Wilson, says workers who are classified under the Sunday Trading Act 1994 as shop workers are ‘protected’ from being forced to work on a Sunday and are legally entitled to refuse to do so. Even those who are not ‘protected’ because they have previously forfeited their right to object to Sunday working by signing an opting-in notice can still change their minds and opt out of Sunday working during the Olympics.

For employees in large shops who were required to provide three months’ notice to opt out under the Sunday Trading (London Olympic and Paralympics Games) Act 2012 the notice period has been reduced to two months.

Another factor to consider is the reason why someone does not want to work on a Sunday. If an employee has expressed strong religious reasons for refusing to work, they may argue that the requirement to work on a Sunday amounts to indirect discrimination. If faced with such a request, it is best practice for the employer to consider whether they can accommodate it and, if not, what alternative options are available.

An employer would be expected to justify their decision to refuse a request. If there were no viable alternatives, such as rescheduling shifts, then the business would need to identify why they needed the employee to work, and then balance its own needs against the impact on the employee.