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Does an employer have to give staff bank holidays off?

Published 18 July 2022

Let’s face it we all like a break from work and bank holiday is the perfect time to have one - but are all employees entitled to have that time off?

For many workers, the idea of a long weekend created by a bank holiday is always likely to be an appealing one.

But not all employees are permitted to have those days off work.

The next bank holiday this year is on 29 August, followed by Boxing Day and 27 December, which is a substitute day because Christmas Day falls on a Sunday [1 cited 18.7.22]. When days which are usually bank holidays fall on weekends, a substitute weekday becomes a bank holiday instead.

Whether or not you have to give staff bank holidays off will strictly depend on what is in their contract of employment [2 cited 18.7.22]

The document sets out the legally enforceable terms and conditions that govern the working relationship between both parties.

In accordance with section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, as an employer you must give employees a written statement of terms and conditions of employment, which must contain terms relating to bank holidays [3 cited 18.7.22]

There is no general legal right to time off, for bank holidays although it is a common practice to give time off.

Many employees will have the right to bank holidays written into their contract.

If you need to check this, review the document and look for wording like ‘holidays,’ ‘holiday entitlement’ or ‘annual leave.’ [4 cited 27.7.22]

You might see something that says, “In addition to bank and public holidays, your annual entitlement to holidays is … days” - this would mean you get bank and public holidays in addition to your annual leave entitlement.

Or you might see, “Your annual holiday entitlement (inclusive of bank and public holidays) is ... days” - this would mean you have to take bank holidays as part of your annual leave entitlement.

You must adhere to what is in the contract you have agreed with the employee re bank holidays. If you do not, they could challenge you.

These are testing times for businesses in all sectors who are having to adapt to survive. If this means you now want your staff to work bank holidays, despite the contract allowing them those days off, then discuss it with them.

You must get an employee’s agreement if you want to amend or update any terms or conditions in their contract [5 cited 18.22]  

You should:

  • Consult or negotiate with employees or their representatives (for example from a trade union or staff association)
  • Explain the reasons for changes
  • Listen to alternative ideas from employees

If you simply enforce changes or fail to honour the terms of an employment agreement it could lead to the employee submitting a formal complaint and raising a grievance [6 cited 18.7.22]

In such circumstances the grounds for grievance are likely to include a breach of contract.

If the contract does not mention bank holidays discuss it with the employee and reach an agreement about if they will or will not work on those days.

If there is no written contract of employment then whether or not an employee will be entitled to bank holidays off work will depend on what has been verbally agreed or on custom and practice.

In England and Wales, there are usually eight bank holidays every year, while in Scotland there are nine and in Northern Ireland there are 10.

The Royal family can add extra bank holidays, which happened earlier this year to mark the Queen's Jubilee, and 70 years since she first became the country's monarch.

Bank holidays were first introduced by Sir John Lubbock, a writer, banker and politician [7 cited 18.7.22] It was 151 years ago that he drafted the Bank Holiday Bill, which subsequently became law and created the first official bank holidays.

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