On 1 May 2012 The Sunday Trading (London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) Bill received Royal Assent. The Act will suspend restrictions on Sunday trading hours in England and Wales for eight Sundays during the period 22 July to 9 September. Throughout this time, large shops will not have to comply with Sunday opening hours.
Shop workers, who are not employed to only work on Sundays, are already entitled, under the Employment Rights Act 1996, to “opt out” of any requirement by their employer to work on a Sunday on three months’ notice. Under the new Act, the usual period of notice that employees must give their employer if they wish to opt out of Sunday working has been reduced from three months to two to take into account the short period of time before the start of the Olympics.
Shop workers may give their employer written notice that they object to working on a Sunday at any time. This notice will take effect after three months. If the shop worker began their employment on or before 26 August 1994, they will have the additional right not to work on Sundays unless they are employed to work Sundays only. To comply with the Regulations, the notice must be in writing, signed and dated by the worker and state that the worker objects to working on a Sunday.
All employers should be aware that shop workers are entitled not to be dismissed, selected for redundancy or subjected to any other detriment by reason of their refusal to work on Sunday. Dismissal of a shop worker for asserting a statutory right will be automatically unfair. Employers are not required to pay employees for the Sundays that they do not work.
Effects of Sunday Working Opt Out During the Olympics
During the Olympics, the following notice periods for opting out of Sunday working apply:
- if notice is given on or after 1 May 2012 but on or before 22 May 2012, the notice period ends on 21 July 2012. The worker would, in addition, have the right not to work on Sunday 22 July 2012 (the first day of the suspension period);
- if notice is given after 22 May 2012 but on or before 9 July 2012, the notice period ends two months after the day on which the notice is given;
- if notice is given after 9 July, the notice period ends on 8 September 2012 and the worker would have the right not to work on Sunday 9 September;
- if notice is given on 10 July 2012 or later, the notice period of three months will then apply as normal.
Mark Prisk, the Business Minister, has confirmed that the suspension of Sunday trading restrictions will not be "a test case for a permanent relaxation of the rules in the future". However, employers should be aware that, during the Olympics, many employees may want to take the opportunity to work more, less or different hours. Employers should keep a close watch on working hours to ensure working time rules are not breached and that all employees are treated the same in order to minimise the risk of potential claims.