Are staff entitled to time off on bank holidays?

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employee holiday
We have a flurry of bank/public holidays coming up which will, I am sure, be very welcome to employees – but how are you going to deal with the possibility of everyone wanting to take off the bank holidays whilst you need cover for the business?

Firstly, the history lesson. What is a bank holiday?

The first official bank holidays were named in the Bank Holidays Act 1871 and in England, Wales and Ireland were Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day. Scotland was treated differently because of different traditions. Under this Act of Parliament, no person was required to make any payment or to carry out any act upon a bank holiday which he would not have been required to do on Christmas Day or Good Friday. These two days were not included in the Act as they had already been recognised as common law holidays.

In 1971, the Banking and Financial Dealings Act was passed which continues to regulate bank holidays in the UK. The date of the August bank holiday was moved to the last Monday in August and Whit Monday was replaced by the Late Spring Holiday on the last Monday in May. New Year’s Day was introduced throughout the whole of the UK in 1974 and May Day in 1978 as the first Monday in May. If one of these days falls on a weekend, then the day is deferred to a week day and known as a “bank holiday in lieu”. Further days may be declared from time to time by Royal Proclamation such as the Royal Wedding in 2011 and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. All of these holidays are also known as “public holidays”.

From an employment perspective, despite popular belief, there is no statutory entitlement to be given time off on bank holidays (unless you are a bank employee for whom there is a right under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 not to work on bank holidays).

However, there may well be a contractual entitlement or an entitlement that has become implied into workers’ contracts as a result of custom and practice in the past. If there is a clause in their contract of employment giving them the right to take time off on public holidays then of course they are entitled to take the time off. If the business needs them to work on any of those days, then you will need to consult with the affected employees and agree with them the terms under which they will work those days, ie be given another day off in lieu or paid at a higher rate. It’s a good idea to have these terms stated in your documentation.

Where there are competing requests for additional holiday entitlement to be taken around public holidays, they must be considered fairly and in a consistent manner to avoid potential discrimination claims. Make sure that your policies and procedures clearly define the manner in which such requests will be considered. So if you have, for example, a requirement for three out of six people to work on Christmas Day, make sure that you give priority to time off this Christmas to those who worked it last year.

If changes are required to your current arrangements for public holidays, ensure that new provisions are drafted that fit the business needs. Don’t forget to take into account the bank holiday rights of part-time staff and shift workers and also those who are on maternity, paternity, adoption or shared parental leave and also those on sick leave.

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