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What is weekend working?

Weekend working refers to the practice of working on the weekend. In the UK, Saturdays and Sundays aren’t typically considered ‘working days’. However, a contract of employment may designate them as working days.

Working on weekends is sometimes also referred to as ‘Sunday working’.

What does the law say about working weekends?

In the UK, staff cannot be required to work on weekends unless they have agreed this with their employer. This means that a staff member only has to work weekends if:

If a staff member’s contract requires them to work during weekends, the staff member can request to work only on Saturdays or only on Sundays in accordance with the terms of their contract. This can be a regular commitment or an occasional request.

Employers do not have to pay staff members more for working during the weekend unless this has been agreed beforehand (eg in their employment contracts). 

Working weekends and the 48-hour workweek

Employers also have to comply with The Working Time Regulations 1998. This means that they have to ensure that staff members do not work more than an average of 48 hours per week unless they have opted out of the 48-hour working week

For more information, read How to opt-out staff from the 48-hour week.

Working weekends and rest breaks

Employers have to ensure that staff members have adequate rest breaks. Staff members over the age of 18 are entitled to an uninterrupted rest break (ie a period without work) of either:

  • 24 hours every week, or

  • 48 hours every fortnight

They are also entitled to a daily rest of at least 11 hours between working days.

Staff members working night shifts cannot work more than an average of 8 hours in each 24-hour period. For more information, see the government’s guidance on night working.

Note that the rules for staff members under the age of 18 are stricter (ie they are entitled to 12 hours of rest between working days and a weekly rest break of 48 hours). For more information, read Child employment.

For more information on rest breaks, read Pay and benefits.

Special rules for shop workers and betting workers

The Employment Rights Act 1996 sets out specific rules for retail and betting shop staff working during weekends.

These rules stipulate that staff working in retail or in betting shops (including anyone who works on race tracks) cannot be required to work on a Sunday if:

  • they have been working in a retail shop since 26 August 1994 (or earlier)

  • they have been working in a betting shop since 3 January 1995 (or earlier)

These types of staff members are known as ‘protected’ retail or betting staff.

Opting-out of Sunday working

All staff members who work in retail or in a betting shop can opt-out of working on Sundays unless Sundays are the only day they work. Staff can opt-out of Sunday working at any time, even if they agreed to it in their contract. 

When opting-out of Sunday working, staff members must:

  • give their employer at least 3 months’ notice of their wish to opt-out, and

  • continue to work on Sundays during the 3-month notice period if their employer wants this

Employers must provide retail and betting shop staff members who work on Sundays with written notice that they can opt-out of Sunday working at any time. This must be done within 2 months of the person starting work. If an employer fails to provide this notice, the staff member only needs to give them one month’s notice to opt-out of working on Sundays.

Anyone with the status of employee (as opposed to worker or consultant) cannot be dismissed or treated unfairly for choosing not to work on Sundays.

Can employers ask staff to work during the weekend?

Employers may occasionally need to ask staff to work on the weekend (eg because of the nature of a business or due to customer demand), even if this isn’t normally the case.

Employers can ask staff to work outside their normal contracted working hours. Staff members can agree to work occasional weekends without necessarily agreeing to a permanent change to their employment terms. Similarly, protected retail or betting workers may be able to agree to work an occasional weekend shift without agreeing to work every weekend. That being said, staff members who are not contractually required to work weekends and protected workers can refuse to work occasional weekends.

If an employer requires a permanent weekend cover, they should reach an agreement in writing with the relevant staff member. Employers must not force staff to work on weekends if they are not contractually required to do so as this may amount to a breach of the staff member’s contract. 

If an agreement cannot be reached, employers may be able to end a staff member’s contract and then rehire them under new terms (as long as they do not work in retail or in a betting shop). This practice is known as ‘fire and rehire’. However, this can come with serious legal risks and should only be used as a last resort after seeking legal advice. This was highlighted in 2021 in the case of Dobson v North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust (UKEAT/0220/19/LA). Here an Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that an employer’s decision to dismiss a community nurse after seeking to re-hire her on new terms requiring her to work weekends was potentially discriminatory because of her childcare commitments. Specifically, the Tribunal found that women bear a greater burden of childcare commitments than men, which can limit their ability to work certain hours (eg nights or weekends). This was termed ‘childcare disparity’ and it was advised that it should be something that Tribunals take into consideration when relevant.

Can employers discipline staff members for not working during weekends?

Protected shop and betting workers cannot be dismissed, disciplined or treated less favourably because of their decision not to work on Sundays. If the staff member in question is an employee, any such dismissal will likely be classed as an automatically unfair dismissal.

For all other staff members, the employer’s ability to discipline or dismiss a staff member because of a refusal to work weekends depends on the terms of their contract (or on employment term changes they’ve agreed to). 

If the staff member’s employment terms (either in their contract or in a formal change to their employment terms) require them to work weekends, they must do so. Any failure to comply with their employment terms can result in the employer taking justified disciplinary action. This should be done in accordance with the employer’s Disciplinary procedure

Staff members who are not required to work on weekends and refuse to do so must not be disciplined or dismissed because of this refusal. If a staff member feels forced to resign because they are being compelled to work weekends, the employer may be subject to a claim for constructive dismissal.

Ask a lawyer if you have any questions or concerns about working during the weekend or asking staff members to do so.

Rebecca Neumann
Rebecca Neumann
Senior Acquisition Manager at Rocket Lawyer UK

Rebecca is the Senior Acquisition Manager at Rocket Lawyer UK. She graduated from Queen Mary University of Laws with a law degree and has completed her LPC at the University of Laws.

She is passionate about intellectual property and private client law, and strongly believes that legal services should be affordable and accessible to all.

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