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Can you be forced to work a Sunday?

The outcome of the vote yesterday on the proposed extension to Sunday trading hours was certainly very interesting.

However, it is also a timely reminder to ask, can an employer force an employee to work on a Sunday if they have not previously had to do so? 

The simple answer is likely to be no unless the contract of employment they have signed specifically states it will be required. Of course, the law is never quite that simple and there are various lawful means an employer can legitimately explore to try and engineer a change but the important point is they generally have to go through a proper process involving some form of consultation. They can't just do it.

More importantly,  'shop workers' actually have extra protections including a specific right to 'opt out' of Sunday working by giving a minimum amount of notice. If they choose to do so the employer cannot dismiss them or subject them to a detriment. To ensure they are aware of their rights the employer also has to give them a written statement setting this all out.

Interestingly, the definition of 'shop worker' is quite widely drafted and could include business beyond the traditional retailer although there are some exclusions such as catering businesses. As a result, many business operating from premises and serving customers could be in breach of these requirements unknowingly.

Finally, requiring an employee to work on Sunday could infringe on one or more protected characteristics giving rise to a possible discrimination claim. Religion being the most obvious example.

All indications so far are that these rights are here to stay whether the trading hours are eventually changed or not. In fact, the government has suggested they may actually be extended to offset the longer working day.

So if Sunday is not to be a day of rest for your staff please proceed with caution!

Government facing battle in Sunday trading vote
From the section UK Politics

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The government faces possible defeat on plans that could extend Sunday trading hours in England and Wales.MPs will vote later on handing control of the issue to local councils - which unions and Labour say could extend Sunday opening by up to six hours.More than 20 Tory MPs are expected to rebel, one saying the shake-up would "chip away" at Sunday's special status.Ministers have offered concessions, including piloting the changes and an annual review, if MPs agree to them. ”