Bank holidays: common HR misconceptions and how to correct them

Rights and duties surrounding bank holidays can be confusing for both employers and employees

Misconceptions are common and are sometimes carried over into company holiday policy; therefore, it is essential that everyone with HR responsibilities is familiar with the current employment laws governing bank holidays.

This article focuses on the situation in England and Wales. Slightly different rules apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

How many bank holidays are there in the calendar year?

In England and Wales, there are currently eight bank holidays: New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, May Day (the first Monday in May), Late Spring Bank Holiday (the last Monday in May), August Bank Holiday (the last Monday in August), Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Are employees entitled to take their eight bank holidays as a matter of statutory right?

In short – no. Whether an employee benefits from any or all bank holidays depends on the wording of their individual employment contract.

Does this mean employers can require employees to work on any or all bank holidays?

If their employment contract requires them to work on a specific bank holiday, the employee cannot refuse; however, employers should be wary of the risk of an indirect claim for religious discrimination if a refusal to grant Christian employees time off for the religiously-significant bank holidays places them at a significant disadvantage when compared with employees following a different religion.

For example, an employer that routinely grants Jewish employees time off to mark Passover or Muslim employees time off for Eid but refuses to allow Christian employees time off on Good Friday may be committing unlawful indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion.

Can bank holidays be ‘wrapped up’ in an employee’s overall annual holiday allowance?

Yes – but see the point above about potential indirect discrimination on grounds of religion.

Does an employee have the right to extra pay if they work on a bank holiday?

Extra pay is only a right if this is provided for in their employment contract. There is no statutory right.

What holiday entitlement does ‘statutory entitlement plus bank holidays’ equate to?

The statutory minimum holiday leave increased from 20 to 28 days in 2009. Employers can include bank holidays as part of this 28-day total; however, contractual wording as in the example above allows an employee to take 28 days leave plus the eight bank holidays, making a total of 36 days.

Employers whose holiday allowance provides for ‘statutory entitlement including bank holidays’ should also be cautious. If a leave year runs from April to March, an early or late Easter can result in an employee losing or gaining bank holidays. It is not possible to rely on bonus bank holidays one year to make up for a shortfall the next.

How should bank holiday allowances for part-time workers be calculated?

To avoid falling foul of the Part-Time Workers Regulations, which require employers to treat part-timers no less favourably than their full-time counterparts, it is safest to pro-rata their bank holiday allowance. This should be done without regard for whether they usually work on the affected days.

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