There are a number of commonly-held myths surrounding bank holidays.

This can leave employers unsure where they stand and worried that they may be getting it wrong.

Often, employers can feel pressured to grant time off, as employees may (wrongly) assume that they’re entitled to not work bank holidays. In reality, it’s not so straightforward.

bank holiday working

It’s important to understand how bank holiday entitlement works – and ensure this is communicated clearly to your employees – as misinformation can lead to non-attendance and disputes over pay.

With the bank holiday weekend just around the corner, we answer some commonly-asked questions surrounding the law, your obligations and employee rights.

Can my employee refuse to work on a bank holiday?

Whether or not an employee is required to work bank holidays will depend on the terms of their Contract of Employment. As far as the law is concerned, there’s no general legal right to time off – so unless their contract states otherwise, you are within your rights to require an employee to work.

That said, it’s now fairly common for contracts to give employees the right to time off on bank holidays, whether this is included within their overall holiday entitlement or provided for separately. However, in some sectors – such as retail, hospitality, transport and public services – the nature of the business may mean that employers will need employees to work on bank holidays for commercial or operational reasons. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to state this requirement explicitly within their contract to avoid any ambiguity or confusion.

As far as the law is concerned, there’s no general legal right to time off for a bank holiday – so unless their contract states otherwise, you are within your rights to require an employee to work.

Am I required to pay employees extra for working bank holidays?

There is no obligation on employers to pay extra for working on a bank holiday. However, again, an employee may be entitled to more than their usual rate of pay if this is stated in their Contract of Employment or based on customary arrangements.

It is important to be aware of implied terms, which are not written down anywhere but are understood to exist because of the conduct of the parties. For example, you might have paid employees time and a half for bank holidays for many years, although this is not stated in any formal agreement, leading employees to expect this as a matter of course. Through custom and practice, this may have become a contractual term; however, this can be difficult to establish and will be up to an Employment Tribunal to decide. You should also be aware that it is possible to have express terms agreed verbally rather than in writing, so be careful with what’s agreed in conversation. It’s a good idea to seek advice from a HR specialist in these situations, as they would be able to help decipher the complexity of implied terms.

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How do I deal with time off requests?

Most of us look forward to spending a long weekend with family and friends, especially as the weather starts to improve. You would expect employees to have organised themselves ahead of the break and booked time off if necessary; however, employees can be unpredictable, and last-minute requests (or simply not turning up for a shift) can cause disruption.

working bank holidays

It is therefore wise to remind employees to put in their requests for time off as soon as possible and warn them not to book a hotel or flight without getting authorisation from their manager first. You should also draw their attention to the amount of notice they are required to give (which should be set out in their Contract of Employment) and make it clear that they cannot expect to give a day’s notice when they plan to take a week off.

What happens if everyone wants to take the same days off?

This is a common scenario – and while you will want to keep employees happy, you can’t run a business without staff. If you can’t accommodate all requests, it’s a good idea to grant leave on a “first come, first served” basis. If the preceding Friday is also a public holiday, you could consider allowing people to choose between taking either this day or bank holiday Monday off. Alternatively, if an employee isn’t granted the time off they request, you may wish to give them priority when booking leave during busy periods later in the year.

It is beneficial to encourage your team to collaborate with each other to coordinate leave in order to ensure operational business requirements are met and issues are quickly resolved.

3 things you need to know regarding holiday entitlement:

  • As per government guidelines, full-time employees have the right to 5.6 weeks’ (28 days) paid annual leave per year. Employers may decide to include bank holidays as part of a worker’s statutory annual leave entitlement.
  • It is a legal requirement to provide employees with written details regarding their holiday entitlement. You should specify how many days’ leave the employee is entitled to and whether this includes bank holidays. This may be written in their contract as “In addition to all bank and public holidays, the employee is entitled to X days of annual leave” or, alternatively, “The employee is entitled to X days of annual leave, inclusive of bank and public holidays”.
  • You must make it clear to your employees when the holiday year is. For example, this could be the calendar year (1st January to 31st December), fiscal year (1st April to 31st March) or from the date when the employee started working.

Still unsure?

If issues surrounding bank holiday entitlement are causing disruption to your business, our qualified Employment Law Advisers can review your annual leave policy to ensure it is fit for purpose and provide pragmatic advice on handling difficult situations. Call 03452268393 now for expert reassurance.