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The long bank holiday weekend may not be for all of us

Published 20 June 2022

We all like a break from work and bank holiday is the perfect time to enjoy one, but can you say no if asked by your employer to work on a public holiday?

 Contrary to what may have once been, or may even still be, popular belief an employee does not have a legal right to time off on bank holidays.

 There are three remaining public holidays this year with the next one on 29 August followed by Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

 So if you are asked to work on any one of those days, while many enjoy a well-earned break, can you refuse?

 The correct answer really depends on what is stated in your contract of employment [1 Cited 20.6.22]

 Under section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, an employer should give you a written statement of terms and conditions of employment, which must contain terms relating to holiday entitlement, including bank holidays [2 cited 20.6.22]

The contract will dictate whether you are obliged to work on bank holiday. Therefore, subject to the terms of your contract of employment, you can be required to work on bank holidays.

 If contractually required to do so and you refuse without good reason, then it could have serious consequences. It can be treated as a disciplinary issue. 

It can be business as usual for some professions on Christmas Day which means that depending on your job, you may be asked to work on 25 December.

 Whether you have to work on Christmas Day and Boxing Day is entirely up to your employer and, again, dependent on the contract you agreed with it.

 If you are a Christian you may refuse to work Christmas Day for religious reasons, even if contractually obliged to do so. You should discuss this with your employer and book a day’s annual leave because of your beliefs.

 If the request for the time off is unfairly refused then you may have a claim for indirect religious discrimination [3 cited 20.6.22]

 You may find it difficult to refuse a request by your employer to work a bank holiday even if your contract of employment entitles you to the time off. If you simply cannot refuse the request and you do go into work, then you are entitled to a day off in lieu.

 Taking time in lieu for extra holidays if you have worked overtime or additional hours is a common practice in some workplaces. It is often referred to as ‘TOIL’, time off in lieu, or a day in lieu [4 cited 20.6.22]

 If you worked a bank holiday when not contractually obliged to do so, it would be illegal for your employer to refuse to give you a day in lieu if it meant you will receive less than the statutory minimum of 28 days leave for that year [5 cited 20.6.22]

 There are usually eight bank holidays every year in England and Wales [6 cited 20.6.22]. In Scotland there are nine and in Northern Ireland there are 10.

 This year May bank holiday weekend was moved to Thursday 2 June and an additional bank holiday on Friday 3 June saw a four-day weekend to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

 Royals can add extra bank holidays if they want to, as they did this year and previously with the millennium bank holiday on 31 December 1999

 Bank holidays were first introduced in 1871 when Sir John Lubbock drafted the Bank Holiday Bill [7 cited 20.6.22]

 Initially, it was just banks and financial buildings that would close, which is where the name comes from. But as time went on, businesses, shops, schools and the government all joined in.

 While many employees look forward to their bank holiday breaks and a long weekend, there are other workers who are usually not so lucky such as emergency service workers, carers and chefs.

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