Are employers legally obliged to give employees bank holidays off?

Taking on your first employee(s) is a sure sign of business growth, but one that comes with a great deal of pressure. Other people are now relying on you and your business’s continued success for their livelihoods.

Whilst small business owners will generally do their best for their employees, the topic of annual leave, and in particular bank holidays, is a contentious one. In this post, we answer one of the key questions on this subject – are employers legally obliged to give employees bank holidays off? Let’s jump straight in.

You do not have to give employees bank holidays off

It is up to you whether or not your team members work on bank holidays, as there is no legal right for them to have the time off. Ultimately, it comes down to the employment contract you have in place, and of course, if you intend to operate on a bank holiday.

For employees, bank holidays will be seen as a welcome break, giving them a chance to relax and spend time with family and friends. However, it’s often a different story for business owners who may want their business to carry on as normal – in fact, bank holidays may represent one of their busiest times of the year.

Whether you trade or not on a bank holiday is again up to you. The only exception to this is if you operate a shop that’s larger than 280 square metres, in which case you can’t open on Christmas Day, due to the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004.

Ensure you are providing minimum statutory holiday entitlements

The statutory minimum holiday entitlement for full-time employees in the UK is 28 days. If your employment contracts do not provide bank holidays as automatic annual leave to your employees, you need to ensure you provide them with at least 28 days of annual leave to avoid breaking UK employment law.

Be clear with your employees about your expectations

On the face of it, this is a relatively simple subject. If you trade on bank holidays, you should expect your team to turn up and work as per usual.

First and foremost, you need to be clear regarding your working policy. You must notify potential employees of your bank holiday expectations during the recruitment process. If this is a problem for someone, this gives them a chance to pull out of the process.

Likewise, during onboarding, you will want to remind new staff about your policies regarding annual leave and bank holidays, and these should be covered clearly in your employee handbook, employment contracts, and other internal documentation you may maintain.

But also be flexible if you can

However, as someone who values their team, and the importance they hold in assuring the success of your business, you need to show a level of understanding.

If your staff work on a rota, give as much notice as possible with regard to who will and won’t be working over bank holidays. This will give them a chance to swap shifts (if permitted within your business) and make alternative plans with their friends or family – particularly pertinent during the Christmas period.

All businesses will have their own policies on how much notice staff must give to book annual leave. If you intend to operate over a bank holiday, notify your team as the deadline for booking leave approaches.

As an employer, you will find that annual leave is a sensitive topic for your employees and one that some may be willing to resign over.

If you are concerned that a valued team member may hand in their notice, rather than work over a bank holiday, look into possible solutions. Whilst their attitude may not be ideal, is it something you’re willing to lose them over? It’s a tightrope walk, and one you, as the boss, will have to navigate.

Flexibility on your part is recommended, but this isn’t always possible, especially in industries where the bank holidays will be a busy period. This is where additional payment to employees may be required.

Paying extra on bank holidays

There is no legal obligation for you to pay extra for working on a bank holiday (unless this has been written into employment contracts).

If working on bank holidays is accepted amongst your team and does not affect morale, there’s probably no need to introduce additional payment for working over these periods.

However, if it is regularly problematic within your business – and operating over a bank holiday is a must – you should consider softening the blow by paying time-and-a-half or even double pay if you can afford to.

So there you have it!

We hope you have found this post helpful.

At 1st Formations, we pride ourselves on offering the best advice when it comes to starting and running a company. For more posts like this, take a look at our central blog hub.

Thanks for reading.

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.