The truth about bank holidays and staff entitlement

  • Leave and Absence
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

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When you work in management, you’ll hear lots of myths about bank holidays.

Whether it’s the right to time off or extra pay, staff entitlement isn’t always clear. And that means you could be driving up costs or closing your business when it’s not necessary.

With May bank holidays around the corner, here are six things you should know…

1. Staff aren’t entitled to a day off

A bank holiday can feel like a universal day off.

But whether your staff work in an office or a shop – or anywhere in between – you don’t need to provide paid leave on a bank holiday.

Remember, workers are entitled to at least 5.6 weeks of annual leave. And as long as you provide this throughout the year, you can choose whether or not to close on a bank holiday.

If you can, offering bank holidays on top of annual leave entitlement is worth considering. It means you can keep morale high – and who wouldn’t want happy staff? Plus, offering extra leave for bank holidays is a great incentive when it comes to recruiting staff.

2. You’re not obliged to pay overtime

It’s normal for employers to pay double time – or even triple time – for staff working on a bank holiday. But that doesn’t mean you’re obliged to pay a higher rate.

Unless you’ve said otherwise in your employees’ contracts, you can pay staff their standard rate on a bank holiday.

That said, paying a higher rate on a bank holiday has benefits. Offering a higher rate can encourage employees to work on a bank holiday. And that saves you from dealing with any conflict over the rota…  

3. You can refuse a bank holiday request

Do you need staff to work over bank holidays? You can treat a leave request for a bank holiday like any other request.

That means you can refuse your employee’s request if you have a valid business reason – like if you haven’t enough staff to cover their shift.

If you have an annual leave policy, make sure you follow this when you approve or reject a request. And if you don’t, it’s good practice to stick to a first-come first-served basis. 

To manage multiple holiday requests, BrightHR can help. With a staff holiday planner, you can see any clashes before you click ‘approve’ – so you’ll always know if you have enough staff available.

4. You can follow the same policy for religious bank holidays

Some bank holidays have a religious background. With holidays like Good Friday and Easter Monday, staff might argue denying time off is discriminatory.

But unless your policy says otherwise, staff aren’t entitled to time off – whether the bank holiday is religious or not. If your annual leave allowance doesn’t include bank holidays, you can accept or deny a request like you usually would.

To avoid discrimination claims, it’s important to treat staff equally. So if you provide paid leave for Boxing Day, make sure this holiday applies to everyone – not just staff who celebrate Christmas. 

Ultimately, if you already allow time off for bank holidays, you don’t need to worry. And if you’re open on bank holidays, you can approve any requests on a first-come first-served basis.

5. You should plan for an extra bank holiday next year

Normally, you can plan around a set amount of bank holidays each year. But with the Queen’s 70th anniversary next year, there’s an extra holiday on Friday 3 June.

And not only that, but the late May bank holiday will also move to Thursday 2 June to create a four-day weekend. So you’ll need to be prepared for your staff to book extra time off for a longer break…

When it comes to extra holidays, you need to consider your contract. The wording of your contract is important – do you provide time off for any bank holidays? Or do you only account for a specific number of national bank holidays?

England and Wales have eight national bank holidays, and Scotland has nine.

So if your contract only allows for a set number of bank holidays, your staff aren’t entitled an extra day off. It’s good to check your policy in advance and see if you allow for additional holidays.

6. You need to be clear about your bank holiday policy

Whatever your position on bank holidays, you need to be open with your staff.

Staff should be able to clearly access your policy in an employee handbook – and if you do allow leave on bank holidays, you need to stick to your word. Otherwise, you could face a dispute or constructive dismissal claim.

With bank holidays and loosening lockdown restrictions around the corner, you can almost guarantee that leave requests will start to flood in.

Our HR consultants are here to help you manage bank holidays and annual leave. Whether we’re creating employee handbooks or providing 24/7 advice, you can avoid any staff confusion or conflict.

Interested in expert HR support? Call 0800 028 2420 today to get started.


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