The debate about whether to relax Sunday trading restrictions has been reignited after the laws were temporarily restricted during the Olympic and Paralympic Games

Under current legislation, shops in England and Wales of more than 280 square metres can open for a maximum of six hours on a Sunday between the hours of 10am and 6pm.

However, during the Olympics and Paralympic Games retailers across the country are free to choose when they open, prompting many business officials to consider whether this should always be the case.

Mark Wallace from the Institute of Directors (IoD), claimed that stores should be given the “opportunity to compete as much as they can” and questioned why restrictions apply to physical stores and not online retailers.

Staff have been able to opt out of working on Sundays for years but firms should make sure that they are sensitive to workers’ religious beliefs before embracing unrestricted working hours on a Sunday.

Businesses can not treat staff who refuse to work on a Sunday any differently to those that do as long as they provide a written notice of their intentions, with this then usually taking effect around three months. Employers are likely to face a claim for indirect workplace discrimination if they treat those who are unable to work on a Sunday for religious reasons detrimentally.

Currently, religious employees may be able to attend church before heading off to work later in the morning but they could struggle to do so if they are required to work longer hours.

According to Helen Ward, an associate at Clarion Solicitors, firms should balance up the needs of the business with those of the staff member when rolling out longer working hours on a Sunday.

“As a rule of thumb, treating everyone fairly remains the mantra of employment law. In that sense, automatically allowing Christians to have every single Sunday off – leaving people who are not religious and employees of other faiths to work on Sundays – is likely to cause friction,” she wrote in an article for the HR magazine website.

“Instead, employers would be advised to carefully consider all requests not to work on Sundays and respond according to the needs of the business.”