The government last week confirmed plans to shake up the laws around Sunday trading. The changes are due to take effect from the autumn.   

At present, large stores that are over 3,000 sq ft in size can open on Sundays, but only for six consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm.

The current laws also provide employees with the right to opt out of working on Sundays if they are, or may be, required to work that day – and provided they are not employed to work on Sundays only.

If employees opt out, their notice will take effect three months thereafter. Those staff members cannot then be made to work on Sundays unless they opt back in – something which also requires a three-month notice period.


But last August, the government launched a consultation on proposals to devolve powers to local authorities in England and Wales, which would allow them to introduce their own Sunday trading rules.

The purpose was to ensure continued economic growth and create greater employment opportunities.

Much of the consultation focused on a local authority’s ability to extend Sunday trading hours to enable high-street shops to better compete against online rivals, and for towns and cities to compete for lucrative international tourism trade.

Impact on retailers

While it is recognised that some employees will wish to take advantage of the ability to work on a Sunday, some may not.

The government is therefore extending the existing legal rights of employees in England, Wales and Scotland to opt out of Sunday working.

Retailers therefore need to be aware of the following changes that will come into effect:

  • The opt-out notice period will reduce from three months to one month for large retail shops. The three-month notice period will remain for small retail shops.
  • Employees who already work on Sunday will have the right to opt out of working any more than their normal Sunday working hours. Employees of large shops must give one month’s written notice, and those working in small shops must give three months.
  • Employers will be required to inform their employees about the above rights, and where they can find support and advice.
  • Failure to inform employees about their opt-out rights will result in reduced opt-out notice periods. The reduction will be from one month to seven days for employees in large shops and from three months to one month in smaller shops.
  • A minimum award of two weeks’ pay will be imposed by an Employment Tribunal where an employer has failed to notify an employee of their opt-out rights. This will be increased to four weeks’ pay where the Employment Tribunal considers it just and equitable.
  • Employees will continue to be legally protected from unfair dismissal or being subjected to a detriment as a result of exercising, or proposing to exercise, their opt-out rights

Due to the above significant changes, retailers are advised to explain employees’ legal rights in this area as part of induction processes and within existing training programmes.

It would also be advisable to amend existing contracts and policies to ensure the new rights are clearly explained to employees and are brought to their attention.

In addition, line managers should be specifically briefed and trained on the changes before the Sunday trading hours are extended.

  • Helen Burgess, partner and head of employment (Nottingham), and Michael Briggs, employment lawyer, at Shoosmiths LLP