Overview

These Q&As deal specifically with the subject of bank and public holidays. For information on holidays generally, see our Annual leave and holiday pay Q&As. A list of relevant legislation is given at the end of these Q&As.

Bank holidays are days when banks are entitled to close, either by Royal proclamation or under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971.

The terms ‘bank holiday’ and ‘public holiday’ are often used interchangeably. In England and Wales a bank holiday is usually a public holiday as well, in that the majority of people have the day off.

In Scotland it is more important to draw a distinction between bank holidays and public (or local) holidays because the latter are determined by local authorities, based on local tradition (not statute) and after consultation with local business interests. Dates for bank holidays are the same across the whole of Scotland.

England and Wales

There are six annual bank holidays and two public holidays:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday (public holiday)
  • Easter Monday
  • First Monday in May
  • Last Monday in May
  • Last Monday in August
  • Christmas Day (public holiday)
  • Boxing Day.

Scotland

The same as England and Wales, except that:

  • The first Monday of August is a bank holiday (instead of the last Monday).
  • To accommodate recovery from the Hogmanay celebrations, 2 January is also a bank holiday.
  • Easter Monday is not officially a bank holiday but most banks in Scotland are closed on that day to co-ordinate with England and Wales.
  • Extra public holidays will vary as determined by local authorities.

Northern Ireland

The same as England and Wales, except that there are two extra days:

  • St Patrick’s Day
  • Battle of the Boyne (Orangemen’s Day).

Actual dates of the holidays

Up-to-date schedules for England, Wales and Scotland are maintained by GOV.UK.

Predicted statutory bank holidays for Northern Ireland are recorded by nidirect.

Many workers do not realise that there is no automatic right to paid leave on bank or public holidays. Any right to time off or extra pay for working on a bank holiday depends on the terms of the employment contract. Time off for bank holidays can either be counted against a worker’s annual holiday entitlement or can be provided in addition to it, depending on what’s agreed between the employer and the employee.

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, employers should provide new employees with a written statement of terms and conditions of employment. This statement must contain terms relating to holiday entitlement, including bank holidays and holiday pay. Many workers are entitled to pay on bank and public holidays as a result of implied or express contractual terms.

Employers should therefore word contracts carefully to ensure their intentions are implemented by specifying the actual number of days, and whether bank holidays are included.

Employees can sometimes be required to take annual leave on bank holidays if the contract of employment allows it, but there is a minimum annual leave entitlement.

Extra pay on bank holidays

Some employers do agree to give extra pay, for example time and a half, when an employee works on a bank holiday. However, there is no right for employees to be paid a higher rate than normal for working on a bank holiday unless this is provided for in the written statement or contract of employment (see ‘What is an employee’s holiday entitlement when there is a special public or bank holiday?’).

Employers should specify holiday entitlement – including bank holidays and the rate of pay for working on a bank holiday if appropriate – in the employee’s written terms and conditions of employment.

If employees have historically been paid an enhanced rate for working bank holidays, it is likely that a contractual entitlement can be implied. And if employees regularly receive shift premiums and overtime payments, they may be entitled to more than basic pay on bank holidays and other holidays.

The case law and legislation relating to holiday pay and working time is complex and employers should give careful thought to their holiday and bank holiday pay calculations. Some employers are not aware that, when calculating holiday pay, they may have to take overtime, commission payments, bonuses or other allowances into account.

The basic position is that time off for bank holidays should be calculated pro rata for part-time workers based on the hours a week that they work, regardless of whether or not they work on days on which bank or public holidays fall.

For example, Amanda works four days a week as an IT help desk analyst. Assuming the contract provides for full-time employees to have bank holidays off, Amanda should receive 4/5 of the eight bank holidays given to full-time employees. This means she has an entitlement of 6.4 days (rounded up to 6.5). This would then be added to her annual leave, and any bank holidays that fall on her normal days of work would then be taken from the total allowance.

The issue of maternity or paternity leave and bank holidays can be a perplexing one, and it has given rise to differences of opinion between employees and employers.

The basic position (contrary to popular belief) is that employees have no automatic right to take paid leave in lieu of bank holidays that fall during their maternity or paternity leave. Some employers can, and do, require employees to work on bank holidays. There is no blanket rule that applies: instead the position depends on how bank holidays are treated in the employment contracts.

The usual solution is that, if the employee on maternity or paternity leave would have had a contractual right to bank holidays as paid annual leave, the employee should be given time off in lieu of bank holidays. Employers have to take into account both what the contract says and the statutory minimum amount of annual leave.

If employers intend to argue that the bank holidays are not contractual benefits they should be aware that the cumulative effect of some EU and UK case law may give the employee an argument that accrued annual leave includes bank holidays as well.

By law other holidays may be declared to celebrate special occasions. For example, in 2011 and 2012 there were extra bank holidays to mark the Royal wedding and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee respectively.

The starting point is always that the Working Time Regulations entitle full-time employees to 28 days’ holiday each year. The Regulations do not give employees the statutory right to time off on bank holidays, but rather to time off as agreed with the employer.

Employees will not have an automatic right to paid time off on additional bank holidays, and if they are entitled to the additional holiday that will depend on the wording of their employment contract and/or any subsequent agreement.

For the avoidance of doubt, all employers should consider the contractual position and communicate it promptly to their employees.

Pay

The right to extra pay again depends on the terms of the employee's employment contract, which should address the rate of pay for working on a bank holiday.

If nothing has been addressed in the original contract, the employee's entitlement will then depend either on what has been subsequently agreed or on what has been implied by custom and practice.

If employees have been paid a higher rate for working bank holidays in the past, it is likely that this will have become a contractual entitlement.

Previous additional bank holiday

There is no obligation on employers to grant a day off for an additional bank holiday just because they did so on a previous occasion.

The granting of an extra day off on a single previous occasion is unlikely to give rise to an argument that the employer has created a new custom and practice. Again, the position will depend on the wording of the employment contract and/or any subsequent agreement.

Some bank holidays, for example Christmas and Easter, were originally fixed to coincide with dates in the Christian calendar. Problems can arise if an employee with religious beliefs wishes to have time off on a bank holiday to worship, and it’s usual in their workplace to work on bank holidays.

The position with bank holidays is essentially the same as with any other request for holiday for religious purposes, or in connection with Sunday working. The starting point is that the Equality Act 2010 provides protection for all workers who may suffer discrimination or harassment because of their religious or philosophical beliefs. But the Equality Act does not give employees an automatic right to bank holidays or other time off around any period with religious significance.

The employer needs to examine the terms of the employment contract. If an employee had agreed to work on bank holidays in their contract, the employee cannot then simply refuse to work for religious reasons.

If an employee asks if they can use some of their holiday entitlement to have the bank holiday off for religious reasons, it is potentially indirect discrimination to refuse. However, whether a refusal can be justified will depend upon the facts, the size of the organisation, other employees available and so forth. A refusal could amount to indirect religious discrimination if the employer dismisses the request out of hand and the employee can show they have suffered a particular disadvantage when compared with other employees. The employer would then need to justify the indirect discrimination by establishing that the decision to refuse the time off was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Acas has produced guidance on this topic, and it encourages employers to be sympathetic to requests for religious holidays where possible.

Over recent years there have been various proposals for a new permanent bank holiday.

It seems unlikely that any of these suggestions will be implemented in the near future. However, there may be further attempts to introduce a new permanent bank holiday at some stage.

24 July – In June 2007, the then-Prime Minister indicated that he favoured 24 July for a new proposed public holiday.

November – A 2007 study by the Institute for Public Policy Research concluded that an extra bank holiday should be added on the Monday after Remembrance Sunday in November.

Autumn bank holiday – In March 2008 a private member’s Bill proposed an additional bank holiday in autumn, as there is a long period in the run-up to Christmas with no bank holidays.

24 April – In June 2011 a petition was presented to Parliament requesting that the government make St George’s day a holiday.

Brexit

For information on what Brexit may mean for employment law, read the blog by our Public Policy Advisor (Employer Relations) and visit our resource hub.

Bank holidays or public holidays are historically a rather strange legal concept, as bank holidays can be specified by Royal proclamation as well as by legislation. The main Act governing bank holidays is the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, though other relevant Acts include:

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