Last reviewed 21 April 2021

Should employers give staff days off on bank holidays? Do employers have to pay staff extra if they want to work? And should Christian workers or staff with kids be prioritised when approving annual leave for public holidays with religious festivals? See our article below for some facts you need to know about bank holidays.

1. Automatic time off

There is no statutory right to time off on a bank holiday. All workers must receive 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave each year, but it is up to an employer for when they are allowed to take those days off. It is important that employers are fair to staff when holidays are requested as there is a big risk if some workers’ requests for annual leave are treated more favourably than others.

2. Extra pay entitlements

Employers may reward staff for working on bank holidays by paying them extra, but there is no rule that they should, as how much you pay your staff is up to you. Many businesses offer extra pay for bank holidays as an incentive to encourage staff to work those days. Ensure that any bonuses, including extra pay for bank holidays, are stated in staff contracts.

3. Forced annual leave

If an organisation closes over bank holiday, such as on Christmas Day, employers can force workers to use annual leave while the organisation is shut. Bear in mind that staff must be given twice as much notice as the time period that they are forced off work.

So, to force staff to take one week of holiday, employers would need to give two weeks’ notice.

The requirement to not attend work on this day could also be outlined in the employee’s contracts.

4. Prioritising holiday requests

Employers may think that they should prioritise annual leave requests from staff with religious beliefs or those who have school-age children, but this could result in discrimination against childless or non-religious workers. Instead, it is highly advisable to operate a first-come, first-served approach.

5. Annual leave policies and contracts

Strict policies and contracts will ensure employers are compliant with employment law. Contracts and policies should cover:

  • holiday entitlement

  • extra pay for working certain days

  • annual leave requests and notice required for requesting

  • days staff need to reserve holiday for (if applicable)

  • restrictions on annual leave and policies on carrying over leave.

Expert advice

Can employers force staff to work over bank holidays? No, unless there is a very strong business reason to do so. Statutory holiday leave and pay can be difficult to calculate, especially if you have temporary or part-time workers. What counts as a “legitimate business reason” for restricting holiday is a grey area of employment law. To speak with an HR advisor for advice on any of the above topics, or for any other employment law guidance, call our advice line on 0844 561 8149.