Working Weekends Law UK – Can Employees Refuse Saturday and Sunday Shifts?

Some workers happily work weekends, or have jobs where it’s a key requirement of the role. However, if your usual working hours are on weekdays, the thought of working on a Saturday or Sunday may not be a happy one.

Being told that your employer requires you to work some weekends, or is bringing in a permanent change to your working hours will be a worry. Our guide will help you understand your rights, and applicable working weekends law in the UK.

Weekend Working Laws in the UK – Can I Refuse to Work?

If you haven’t agreed to work on weekends, you are within your rights to refuse to work. However, you should check what is in your employment contract about your working days and hours.

UK law on weekend working is governed by the terms of your employment contract. If your employment contract has not made provision for working on weekends, you can’t be required to work them. Your employer also can’t change your contract of employment without your agreement.

In the event your contract stipulates you need to work some or all weekends, then you are legally required to fulfil this. Refusing to work overtime could lead to disciplinary action on the basis that you have breached your contract.

Even if your contract says you must work some weekends, there may be other regulations which protect you from doing so.

So lets take a look at other UK laws that must be considered when working on the weekends or being asked to work overtime.

Working Time Regulations

The Working Time Regulations were introduced in 1998 to ensure everyone understands the rules around maximum working hours.

This means if you are asked to regularly work weekends as overtime, then the working time regulations need to be applied.

These employment laws ensure the health and safety of everyone in the workplace are considered. The only time you can regularly work more than the maximum hours per week is if you opt out.

48 Hour Working Week

The maximum hours that can be worked in a week is 48 hours under the Working Time Regulations.

This total is averaged out over 17 weeks, so it can be more, on occasion, as long as it doesn’t go over this average.

This 48 hour rule helps keep the health and wellbeing of staff as a paramount consideration. When individuals begin working overtime regularly, it is easy to become burnt out as a result.

Should an employee wish to increase their hours over the 48 hour limit, they can. This is considered as opting out of the working time regulations. This involves signing an agreement, showing your consent to working extra hours.

Find our more about your rights and the 48 hour working week at ACAS.

Daily & Weekly Rest Periods

The Working Time Regulations 1998, also set out clear rules around rest periods during the working week.

It is a legal requirement for employees to be given the correct amount of time for rest periods. This not only includes breaks but also the correct number of hours between shifts.

Daily Rest Periods Between Shifts

Staff should be given the appropriate rest time between finishing one shift and starting the next.

This is also part of the working regulations rules and allows staff adequate time to recuperate. The law states that there should be 11 hours given to a rest period between working days.

See Also: Legal time between shifts UK.

Weekly Rest Periods

Staff are also entitled to a minimum amount of time to rest in any given week.

This number will be dependent on the hours they have worked in the week. They should get at least:-

  • 24 hours of rest for a 7 day period.
  • 48 hours of rest for a 14 day period.

Employees who work shift patterns may not fall under these rules. This is the case if their particular shift pattern shifts or another similar situation.

Weekend Working & Young Workers

When it comes to weekend work and young workers, they have their own set of laws which should be observed by employers.

They are allowed to work fewer hours than adults and the rules are very strict on this. They are restricted with both the daily and weekly hours of the job. Let’s quickly sum the rules up for those considered young workers (under 18s).

13 & 14 Year Olds Can Work:-

  • 12 hours per Week during term time, and 25 hours during school holidays.
  • 2 hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays during term time. During holidays they can work 5 hours on a Saturday, and 2 hours on Sundays.

15 & 16 Year Olds Can Work:-

  • 12 hours per week during term time, and 35 hours per week during school holidays.
  • 8 hour shifts on Saturdays and 2 hours on Sundays year round.

16 & 17 Year Olds Can Work:-

  • No more than 8 hours per day and a maximum of 40 hours per week. These rules apply once 16 year olds are at school leaving age.

Sunday Working Laws

Sunday has always been viewed as the traditional day of rest for many families. However, over recent years, a working Sunday has become the norm for many employees.

Employees must always check their contract of employment when it comes to whether they must work on Sundays. If the contract states they do and they have signed it, then that becomes legally binding.

You cannot opt out of working Sundays unless you are protected by the Sunday Trading Act of 1994. Businesses such as shops and betting shops fall under this protection and can refuse to work on a Sunday.

However, you do need to meet other criteria before you fall under this category of worker.

Opting Out of Sunday Working

If Sundays form part of your contracted weekly hours then you cannot refuse to work them. There are very limited circumstances whereby you can opt out of Sunday work.

  • Opting Out On Religious Grounds – religious beliefs do not make you exempt from Sunday work in the eyes of the law. However, if you feel strongly about this, you should approach your manager. You might be able to find a compromise. However, your employer can insist you work Sundays, particularly if it will adversely affect the business if you don’t.
  • Employees In Shops and Betting Shops – If you are an employee in a shop or betting shop then you may be able to opt out of working on Sundays.However, you do need to meet the criteria which includes shop workers being with the same employer since on or before 26th August 1994. Shops include hairdressers, barbers and auction houses.  Those in the betting shop industry should have been with their employer since 2nd January 1995.

See Also: Is Saturday a Working Day?

Working Weekends & Overtime Pay

It used to be a bit of a consolation thinking that weekend work might mean time and a half or even double pay. It softens the blow a little for many workers.

However, it is not a legal requirement for employers to pay more for weekend work. You should pay careful attention to the pay section of your contract to see where you stand.

Some employers recognise the benefits of paying extra for weekends. It encourages people to work these days without complaint and means there are no staff shortages. Other employers may offer time off in lieu for overtime when you carry out extra weekend work.

Understand your rights around Overtime Pay at Acas.

Enterprise Bill 2016

You may have heard of The Enterprise Act of 2016. This was a bill that was passed but has not yet been made into law.

Had this bill become part of UK law then there would have been some changes to weekend work. This includes the notice required to opt in or out of working Sunday hours. It is currently 3 months and would have been decreased to 1 month.

There was also the intention within the bill to give power to the local councils when it came to Sunday working rights. This was planned as a way of strengthening shop workers’ rights when it comes to the working week.

Requesting a Change to Working Hours

Should you wish to make a change to your working hours then you can make a formal request if you qualify

This should be a written request outlining your reasons for wanting to change your hours. It’s known as a flexible working request.

This might be for personal, family or childcare reasons. Once you have made this request, your employer does not have to agree to it. However, they are only able to refuse your request for defined reasons such as staff shortages.

If your request is honoured then you will have an amendment added to your contract which you will then sign.


Can you be fired for refusing to work on a Sunday?

If your contract states you are tied to weekend hours then you cannot legally refuse to work them. To do so could mean you are fired due to a breach of contract.

Is weekend work considered overtime?

Weekend work is only considered overtime if it is not within the fixed hours of your contract. If your contracted hours include weekends then these are considered your normal working hours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *