Bank holidays: five things businesses need to know

Alan Price, HR expert and CEO at BrightHR, explains what businesses should be aware of ahead of this weekend’s bank holiday

With winter now behind us, we are now entering a period with a few bank holidays. Despite the coronavirus outbreak, the government seems to have confirmed that, generally, bank holidays will occur as planned for the rest of 2020. With this in mind, here are some key questions employers and employees may ask.

Do employees have a statutory right to take off bank holidays?

The law outlines that full-time employees who work five days per week should be provided with at least 5.6 weeks paid holiday per annum, pro-rated down for part-time employees. While this time can include bank holidays, it does not have to. This means that employees can be asked to work on a bank holiday provided they are given the time back at a later date.

Why are contracts necessary?

Contracts of employment dictate what time employees can take off. Some contracts may give employees an entitlement to leave on all bank holidays, while others may list specific bank holidays that can be taken. Being flexible in the contract can help employers if they do seek to impose work on a particular bank holiday date.

Should employers pay employees more if they work on a bank holiday?

There is no legal requirement to do this, and it will be entirely down to the contract of employment. However, taking such an action could help to keep morale up for staff who do need to work on these days.

How could the bank holiday change in May impact businesses?

Usually falling on the first Monday in May, May Day in 2020 is going to take place on Friday 8 May to mark the 75th anniversary of VE day. Again, what a company will need to do in this situation will depend upon the terms of a contract. For example, an issue could arise if the contract specifically provides time-off on the first Monday in May, but the business is seeking to close on Friday. This can be resolved by, for example, using any flexibility built into the contract to nominate alternative days of leave instead of the bank holiday itself, or by agreeing on a temporary amendment to terms and conditions with workers to ensure leave aligns with the Bank Holiday dates.

 Do bank holidays still apply as a holiday during a furlough period? 

There is currently no specific guidance on how annual leave and furlough interact, including the time that would usually be taken as a bank holiday. To this end, employers may seek to cancel specific days designated as leave, including bank holidays, in favour of furloughing employees until this becomes clearer. However, whether they will be able to cancel bank holiday leave will depend upon a contract of employment; in the absence of a term allowing this, staff will need to agree to it before it is enforced. Employers should also remember that employees will need to be provided with an opportunity to take this leave at a later date. Leave that cannot now be taken due to employees being placed on furlough as a result of the coronavirus can now be carried over to the next two leave years.