Why do the banks get all the holidays?

As we approach the last Bank Holiday until after Christmas, we thought we’d share some important information about this important day. For a start, we use ‘bank holiday’ interchangeably with ‘public holiday’ as a catch-all term. It’s a long story – but both will do.

All told, there are eight of them for England and Wales, nine for Scotland and ten for Northern Ireland. That probably signifies something, but we’re not sure what.

When is a holiday not a holiday?

As employees and employers know all too well, holiday can be one of the points of contention which troubles what we’re sure is otherwise a perfect relationship. One reason is that employees may have an optimistic understanding of their holiday entitlement. So let’s bust a few myths, shall we?

  • To begin with: a bank holiday isn’t necessarily a holiday. Not for all of us, anyway.
  • There is no guaranteed right to public holidays off work in addition to annual leave. Statutory holiday entitlement, for a full time employee, is 5.6 weeks (28 days to you and me), which includes public holidays.
  • In fact there’s no statutory right to have bank holidays off work at all, or double time, or time-and-a-half, or time off in lieu. They may be customary in some industries, or contractual – but they aren’t an entitlement.
  • That means that if an employer operates on a bank holiday, staff can be required to work unless their contract says otherwise.
  • Which seems fair enough – given that essential services have to keep running, and many of us like to eat, drink, travel and otherwise make merry at holiday times.

But let’s look on the bright side.

Until very recently, the entitlement to holiday was considerably lower. The good offices of the European Union are directly responsible for bringing holidays up to the level they are at now.

Even if staff can be required to work on a bank holiday, they can’t be compelled to forgo holiday altogether.

But the best thing about this rule? It’s inordinately easier to understand than trying to calculate holiday pro rata, where bank holidays are additional to annual leave. You have to have been there to recognise the manager’s pain in trying to understand whether a person who would not usually work on the day on which a bank holiday falls is entitled to some extra time off ‘because their colleagues get the benefit of a bank holiday without having to take annual leave and otherwise it isn’t fair’. Does that sound confusing? Trust us – it is.

And remember, anyway, that a great many employers:

  • do close for business on bank holidays,
  • give holiday terms which are more generous than the 28 days or equivalent, or
  • pay more generously when staff are required to work on bank holidays.

Possibly they do so by using an appropriate employment contract from Simplify the Law. We suggest you do so too:

Create an employment contract

and make everybody happy.

Even the banks.

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