Could your employment contract grant employees ten bank holidays in a year?

Easter falling so early in 2024 may play havoc with some companies’ holiday policy.

The scenario is a contractual term which states “20 days’ holiday, plus bank holidays”, and a holiday year which runs from April to March. Thanks to the extra bank holiday for the King’s coronation last May, plus an unusual Good Friday this March, that would make ten bank holidays instead of the more normal eight in England and Wales (note Scotland normally has nine and Northern Ireland ten).

The sting in the tail for employees is that they would only have seven next year.

Thankfully, it is more standard to have a holiday year running January to December, which is far less likely to throw up an issue. But wording in contracts does vary, so understanding yours will be important for bank holidays.

How to manage bank holidays in your business

To get matters of law out of the way first, there is no statutory right to have bank holidays off. Working Time Regulations (which only give four weeks’ holiday entitlement) do not differentiate between bank holidays and the 5.6 week minimum annual entitlement we have in the UK. Neither is there a statutory right to enhanced pay, if employees are required to work on a bank holiday.

So we come back to your contracts and, add to that, the nature of your operations.

Taking the simplest scenario first, if your business shuts down for bank holidays, as many do, then your employees must take it off as part of the entitlement and that is that. There should be no real issue there.

But what if your business operates in hospitality or tourism, say? Then there is a bit more involved.

Mandating that staff work on bank holidays

So long as your employment contracts don’t entitle staff to take bank holidays off, you can ask them to work these days and they should comply. Their refusal would be a disciplinary issue which you should manage in line with your own policies and the Acas code of practice.

You may decide to offer them an enhanced rate of pay and/or even another day off in lieu, but unless you are contractually obliged you do not have to do this. The exception is if there is a track record established of paying an enhanced rate; then this may become a contractual requirement.

Other considerations around bank holidays

There are a few other issues that may arise from time to time around bank holidays.

The first is making sure any part-time employees are treated fairly. Because bank holidays most typically fall on Fridays or Mondays, shift patterns which do not align with these could mean they miss out.

Your responsibility as an employer is to make sure they do not fall below the statutory minimum annual leave entitlement and that they are not disadvantaged compared to full-time employees. A pro-rata solution is a common approach.

The second is maintaining consistency. So, for example, if two staff members who you would normally expect to be in work on a bank holiday put in their own annual leave requests, you should follow the same process for deciding the outcome. This may be to accept or deny the request to both, or handle it first come, first served if that is what you do – whatever is right for your business.

Help from the HR Dept

If, after reading this, you realise your own employment contracts need to be reviewed, please do not hesitate to contact The HR Dept. They will help you find a way forward that works for your business.

Dafferns HR is a strategic alliance between Dafferns and The HR Dept

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