The government has published its response to the consultation on devolving Sunday trading rules to local areas. There is good news for both high street retailers and shop workers. We outline the changes and what they mean for employers and employees.

Consultation

Currently, the trading hours of large retail shops are limited by law on Sundays to a maximum of 6 consecutive hours between the hours of 10am and 6pm.

Last autumn, the government carried out a consultation on devolving Sunday trading rules to local areas, with the intention of strengthening the economy, creating more local jobs, supporting local tourist centres and better equipping high streets to compete with online retail sites.

Response

On 9 February 2016, the government published its response to the consultation and confirmed its proposal to devolve the power to extend Sunday trading hours in England to all unitary and shire district councils and in Wales to all county and county borough councils. In London and Manchester, the power will be devolved to mayors.

This will allow local areas to decide whether extending Sunday trading hours is right for the area, or specific parts of the area, and give retailers more flexibility to meet the needs of their customers.

Workers' rights strengthened

The government is also intending to strengthen the rights of shop workers to opt-out of working Sundays in England, Wales and Scotland, by requiring workers to give one month's notice to large shops that they no longer want to work Sundays, rather than the current 3 months' notice.

Employers will be required to inform their employees about the above rights, including a requirement to inform employees where they can find support and advice. A failure to do so will result in reduced opt-out notice periods (a reduction from one month to seven days for employees in large shops and three months to one month in small shops).

In addition, the government will be guaranteeing a minimum award of 2 weeks' pay where a related claim is brought and an employment tribunal finds that the employer failed to notify the shop worker of their opt-out rights.

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.

Next steps

These measures will be brought forward through amendments to the Enterprise Bill which is currently passing through Parliament. It is expected to come into force this Autumn.

In the meantime, employers should start to plan for these changes by:

  • considering what changes may be applicable in the relevant areas where they operate and how they may wish to take advantage of them
  • reviewing employment contracts and policies to ascertain where changes may be necessary
  • planning and drafting communications with employees on the changes
  • informing and training managers about the upcoming changes