The Royal Wedding: Don’t bank on a holiday

All across the country on 23 November 2010 Royalists and holiday-lovers rejoiced at the Cabinet’s announcement that the occasion of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s marriage on 29 April 2011 would be marked with a public holiday.

Employers and financiers alike will be asking: do we have to? The answer relies on an understanding of how public holidays work within the law. There are a number of common misconceptions which muddy the waters, particularly the confusion of what a public holiday actually is.

What is a bank holiday?

A bank holiday is one stipulated by legislation. The Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 governs bank holidays with the UK, and the Scotland Act 1998 assigns to the Scottish Ministers the responsibility for setting bank holidays. At present, there are eight permanent bank holidays.

What is a public holiday?

Public holidays are controlled by individual local authorities. Generally, these are set in cooperation with local businesses and are aimed at preserving local history and traditions, thus this year Dundee marks Victoria Day on 30th May, Arbroath marks St Tammas day on 26th July, and the rest of the world keeps on turning. These designated public holidays are merely recommendations: employers are under no obligation to close their businesses on these days.

Am I entitled to a holiday?

No employee is entitled to take a holiday on a bank or public holiday as a matter of course. Rather, an employee must look to their contract of employment to establish what their position is. An employee entitled to 20 days plus bank holidays would quite rightly expect the day off, as the Royal Wedding is indeed a bank holiday.

More commonly, a contract might entitle an employee to e.g. 24 days holiday as well as six paid bank / public holidays. Such contracts usually go on to list which six days will be given as holiday e.g. Christmas Day, New Years Day. An employee of that firm therefore receives 30 days of paid annual leave. As such, the employer would be compliant with the Working Time Regulations’ prescribed minimum of 28 days holiday and the employee has no special entitlement to take the Royal Wedding off as it is not one of the public holidays listed in the contract.

An employee in such a position would simply apply for a day’s holiday in the usual way, and an employer will then operate their usual standards in deciding whether or not to grant the request. Employers must adopt a consistent approach to bank /public holidays. If employees have routinely been granted leave on such days in the past it may be that there is an established ‘custom and practice’ within the workplace. This could potentially allow employees to claim holiday for the Royal Wedding.

The Practical Aspect

There is nothing intrinsically special about the Royal Wedding from an employment law point of view. Most employees are unlikely to be entitled to the day off, and will have to apply in the usual fashion if they wish to take the holiday.

If there is dubiety about an employee’s contractual entitlement, it may be that employers will choose to grant requests as a gesture of good will in order to maintain good employee relations. If this is done, employers should move quickly to tighten up their statement of terms and conditions in order to prevent a ‘custom and practice’ forming whereby employees expect to have an automatic entitlement to take future bank and public holidays off.

Wise employers should look to clarify any such grey areas in a timely fashion, as any problems experienced with the Royal Wedding will likely resurface next year, when a further public holiday takes place on 5th of June 2012 to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Stewart Dunbar
Trainee Solicitor
Employment Law