It took Prince William nine long years to propose to his bride-to-be Kate Middleton, but when the couple finally announced their engagement last November employers had just six months to decide whether or not to give staff a day off for their wedding on 29 April, says Catriona Weir from law firm Dundas and Wilson.
With only weeks to go until the big day, most employers have now reached a conclusion. Yet it appears that this may well be only the start of the problem, rather than the end.
As the royal wedding approaches, there has been an increase in the number of employers that have decided not to allow staff to take the public holiday. North Ayrshire Council in Scotland has confirmed that its 7,000 employees will not get the day off, citing the "unprecedented financial challenges" facing the public sector. The council has estimated that the financial implications of the extra day off would be around £750,000. The decision not to allow staff to take the public holiday has resulted in criticism of the council by the GMB trade union.
While many employers have chosen to allow employees to take the day off, North Ayrshire Council's decision is not an isolated case. Highland, Orkney and Shetland councils have also confirmed that staff will not be getting the day off on 29 April.
Such decisions are not limited to the public sector. Throughout the UK there have been reports of private sector employers confirming that they will remain open for business on 29 April, and employees will be expected to be there.
Why are employees not getting the day off?
While the Government hopes that employees will be given the day off to mark the royal wedding, the CBI has estimated that the additional day's holiday will cost the British economy about £6 billion in lost productivity. Many smaller employers have advised that they simply cannot afford to provide employees with an additional paid day off work. This is especially the case given that 29 April will be one of four public holidays in 11 days, with resultant business disruption. Employers have also pointed to the poor weather at the end of last year as a reason why further loss in productivity cannot be accommodated at this time.
Most employers will have checked by now whether or not their employees have any legal entitlement to the additional holiday under the terms of their contracts. The answer to this should clearly be the starting point for any decision regarding the time off. Even if employees do not have any entitlement to the additional day off, employers may wish to exercise their discretion to allow the time off.
If it is decided that employees will not be allowed to join in the fun, employers should be prepared to justify this decision. Staff will invariably be disappointed not to have the additional day's holiday which many will have been expecting, and may have planned to spend with friends and family.
If 29 April is to be a normal working day, it is advisable for employers to consider ways to keep employees engaged. Depending upon the nature of the business, it may be possible, for example, to provide facilities to allow employees to watch part of the royal wedding during breaks. It may also be possible to allow extended breaks to coincide with the wedding ceremony.
Whatever approach is adopted for dealing with the public holiday, employers will face a similar situation next year with an additional public holiday having been announced for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
Potential implications if employees are not given the day off
- Industrial relations strife - As North Ayrshire Council discovered, the decision not to give staff the day off can result in a blow to industrial relations. Trade unions have accused employers of taking a "bah humbug" approach to the royal wedding, with some saying that the economic climate is being used as an excuse.
- Potential loss of goodwill - How communications are handled will also be key to avoiding a loss of goodwill on the parts of employees and unions. Many employees will have assumed that they would be off work on 29 April, and employers may therefore experience feelings of resentment from those having to work. If there are genuine business reasons for staff having to work, these should be clearly explained to employees.
- Increased absence rates - Companies should prepare for an increase in sickness/absence rates on the day. Given the proximity of the public holiday to the Easter break, it is likely that opportunistic employees may abuse the situation to attempt to gain an extended holiday over this period. Absence policies should be reinforced prior to 29 April in an attempt to dissuade those employees who might otherwise be tempted to "pull a sickie" at this time. It might also be advisable to encourage applications from employees to use their annual leave on this date to avoid otherwise unauthorised absence.
- Complaints from part-time workers - It is more likely that a part-time worker will not be entitled to the day off than someone who is full time because of the way that holidays tend to be expressed in part-time workers' contracts. This could leave part-time workers feeling as if they are being treated less favourably than their full-time counterparts. Organisations should take care to ensure that employees are being treated equally, and that any complaints of discrimination or unequal treatment are taken seriously.
It is likely that many companies will be giving staff the day off for the royal wedding. However, some employees may wish to delay hanging out the bunting until they know for sure.