Myth busters: bank holidays

words: Fergal Dowling, Partner, Irwin Mitchell LLP

MYTH: Employees have the right to take bank holidays off work or to be paid overtime for working them

Fact: There is no absolute or statutory right for a worker to take bank and public holidays off work or to be paid extra for working on those days. Employers can insist that employees work on bank holidays without being paid overtime, unless their contracts say otherwise.

Bank holidays do not have a special status. The law (as set out in the Working Time Regulations 1998) simply provides that a worker is entitled to receive a minimum number of paid holiday days per year. This is set at 28 days for full-time staff, and you can include bank holidays in this number. The law does not specify when the holidays have to be taken.

A part-time worker has the right not to be treated less favourably than a comparable full-time worker, including when it comes to holidays. So, if fulltime staff get paid bank holidays, part-time staff should receive a pro-rated allowance of paid bank holidays irrespective of whether they normally work on the days on which bank holidays fall.

Employees must receive information about their basic pay and working conditions within two months of starting work. This must include details about the number of days paid holiday they are entitled to receive. This information is usually contained in a contract of employment or statement of employment terms.

If your business closes on bank holidays you can ask your employees to take these days off as paid holiday and deduct these from their holiday allowance. Conversely, if your business remains open all year you can insist that your staff work during bank holidays. This can sometimes cause problems for members of staff who wish to celebrate religious festivals as some bank holidays fall on Christian holidays (such as Christmas and Easter).

There is no absolute right for employees to take time off to worship or celebrate their faith, and your policy should make it clear how you will deal with requests to take paid holiday where you cannot grant all requests. Basing your decision on who worked last year is probably the safest and fairest option and one that is unlikely to be tainted by any hint of religious (or indeed any other form of) discrimination.

Some businesses choose to pay a premium for staff working on bank holidays (particularly over the Christmas period) but you are not obliged by law to do so. If you do pay extra to staff working over a bank holiday or provide additional time off in lieu, this should be clearly set out in contracts of employment.

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