What are your working rights on bank holidays?

Can your employer make you work on a bank holiday? And if you do work, should you be paid more? We look at your working rights on bank holidays. 

Employment rights on bank holidays are often misunderstood – by both employers and individuals. While some companies have traditionally given a day in lieu or paid overtime to those who worked on bank holidays, this is becoming less common.

To help clear up any misunderstandings, whether you’re an employer or an employee, Katy Meves from Springhouse Solicitors explains working rights on bank holidays.

What does your employment contract say?

All workers, that is people who provide their work personally and are not genuinely self-employed, are guaranteed a minimum amount of holiday by law under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (the Regulations).

However, the Regulations just set out the minimum which must be given, some employers are more generous than the law requires but, all employers must meet at least the basic requirement. The position will depend on what is written in the employment contract.

Often, additional rules and policies relating to holiday entitlements are found in staff handbooks. You will need to look at all relevant documentation carefully to understand your legal entitlements.

What is the starting position on bank holidays?

There are generally eight bank and public holidays each year in England and Wales (more in Scotland and Northern Ireland). However, there is no statutory right not to work on a bank holiday or to be paid more if you do work on a bank holiday (or to be given a day in lieu).

The European Working Time Directive (which the Regulations implement in the UK) only provides for a minimum of 20 days holiday a year. However, the Regulations were amended in 2009 so that workers in the UK are now entitled to 5.6 weeks (up to a maximum of 28 days for full-time workers) annual leave each year; employers may include bank holidays in a worker’s statutory minimum annual leave but it all depends on how the employment contract is worded.

For example, if the holiday clause says “25 days plus bank holidays” then it is clear that the entitlement is intended to be in excess of the statutory minimum. However, if it simply says “28 days holiday a year” then, unless there is a custom and practice of people taking additional leave on bank holidays, it will be interpreted as including bank holidays.

Part-time workers are entitled to a pro-rated amount of statutory annual leave. For example, someone who worked three days a week would be entitled to 5.6 x 3 days holiday which equates to 17 days (rounded up).

Part-timers are entitled to be treated no less favourably than a comparable full-time employee so the safest and fairest approach is to give a pro-rated amount of bank holidays each year, regardless of whether or not employees normally work on the day on which a bank holiday falls.

Am I entitled to be paid more if I work on a bank holiday?

Not unless your employment contract provides for this. You may have a contractual right to additional pay, but if it is not in your contract you can’t insist upon it.

In some sectors such as retail, bank holidays are treated very much as a normal working day and if you want to be absent on such a day you have to book your holiday in the normal way. In other sectors such as financial services, offices will be closed and everyone is required to be on leave on bank holidays.

Can I insist on taking a bank holiday as leave?

There is no legal right to take bank holidays off. If the bank holiday is one that has a particular religious significance then refusing a request for leave from a Christian employee on that day could be indirect religious discrimination – if this places them at a particular disadvantage when compared to a non-Christian.

This could also amount to indirect sex discrimination if it meant a woman was unable to put in place childcare on that day. However, these are not easy claims to win as an employer may defend itself by arguing there was a legitimate business need for its policy of not granting leave on a bank holiday.

What if I am on maternity leave?

You can’t “mix” different types of leave and take maternity (or other parental) leave at the same time as annual leave. If you want to take paid holiday you have to bring your maternity leave to an end first.

However, all your contractual benefits, including annual leave will continue to accrue while you are on maternity leave and you must be allowed to take this once your maternity leave comes to an end (carrying over into a subsequent holiday year if necessary).

If your contract provides for “28 days holiday” then you will be entitled to 28 days. However, if your contract provides for “28 days plus bank holidays” the position is less clear cut. Some employers have paid women on maternity for their bank holidays. While many workers may be quite happy with this arrangement, it is not strictly, legally correct.

Under the Regulations, employers may only pay in lieu of statutory holiday on the termination of employment. In addition, women on maternity leave are not entitled to remuneration (pay), which arguably, such a payment is. This question is highly fact specific so, in the event of dispute it is always best to take legal advice regarding your particular circumstances.

Need more legal employment advice?

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Katy Meves is a Partner at Springhouse Solicitors, a niche employment law firm.

Photo by Irina