Legal Q&A: Royal wedding bank holiday

The imminent royal wedding on 29 April has sparked much discussion over employees’ entitlement to paid leave on public holidays. This is primarily because holiday entitlement is such a complex area of law. The following Q&As aim to answer some of the most common queries that have arisen relating to public holidays.

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Q How is the royal wedding different to any other public holiday?

In short, it is not. Public holidays in England and Wales include the statutory bank holidays and traditional holidays as follows:

  • New Year’s Day;
  • Good Friday;
  • Easter Monday;
  • first Monday in May;
  • last Monday in May;
  • last Monday in August;
  • Christmas Day; and
  • Boxing Day.

Additional days may be proclaimed as bank holidays; this includes events such as the royal wedding and is set to include the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on 5 June 2012, as well as days in lieu where other holidays fall on a weekend.

Q So does that mean employees automatically get the day off?

Not necessarily. Statute requires that employees receive a minimum of 5.6 weeks paid leave each year, but there is no statutory right to paid leave on public holidays. The question of whether or not an employee is entitled to take public holidays as paid leave largely depends on the contract of employment.

Q Why are the terms of the contract of employment relevant?

If the contract states that public holidays are granted as leave in addition to annual leave, the employee is entitled to paid leave on public holidays without reducing his or her annual leave entitlement. However, many contracts state that the holiday entitlement is inclusive of public holidays. In this case, there is no automatic right to take the public holidays as paid leave and they must be requested out of holiday entitlement in the normal way. The employer is free to refuse such requests in the usual way.

Q Is that the end of it?

Again, not necessarily. Workplace customs relating to holidays may be relevant and if it is usual for the workplace to grant public holidays as paid leave then extra holidays such as the royal wedding will be included within that. Dispute may also arise where a contract states that the employee is entitled to the usual public holidays. Of course, it is arguable that the royal wedding is not a usual public holiday, but if it is the norm for employees to have paid time off for public holidays, they may be entitled to expect the additional day. If there is no contractual entitlement to paid leave for public holidays, nor a workplace custom with the same effect, then employers do not have to grant the extra day.

Q What is the position for part-time workers?

Again this largely depends on the contract and the same principles apply as for full-time workers, except that entitlement is pro rated. For example, where an employee works a three-day week and public holidays are granted in addition to annual leave, he or she will be entitled to 3/5 of a day extra paid leave for each public holiday. If holiday entitlement is inclusive of public holidays, there is no additional leave entitlement for extra public holidays. Whether or not part-time workers are entitled to a day in lieu where they do not normally work the day in question will also be a matter of contract, but employers must ensure that they do not treat part-time workers less favourably than full-time workers. In short, if full-time workers receive the extra day, then part-time workers should get the pro-rated equivalent.

Q What should employers do?

Check the contracts of relevant staff to determine entitlement, then clearly communicate the position to staff. From a practical perspective, withholding the extra day may leave an employer with a lot of disgruntled employees and there is nothing to stop the employer giving the extra day even when it does not have to. Where it is necessary that some employees work the public holiday, employers should consider granting a day off in lieu and ensure that any system used to determine who does or does not work the extra day is fair and transparent.

Paul Gaff, partner, and Chris Hards, trainee solicitor, Thomas Eggar LLP

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