Diamond Jubilee – jubilation for holiday makers?

Next year will be a milestone for the Queen.  The first week of June 2012 will mark the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth’s reign as monarch.  She will be only the second British monarch to reign for that duration, Queen Victoria also having reached the 60 year milestone previously.  Lord Mandelson commented that this would be a “remarkable achievement” when announcing that an extra bank holiday would be granted to mark the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee on 5 June 2012.

Whilst the Diamond Jubilee will undoubtedly be a notable celebration across the country, employers and employees will likely have one burning question about whether or not the extra holiday is applicable to them.  We only have to cast our minds back to April 2011 when the same question was a hot topic surrounding the famous Royal Wedding.     

Bank holiday?

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

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.  For example, in 2011 Dundee marked Victoria Day on 30th May and Arbroath marked St Tammas day on 26th July. 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?

Employees are not automatically entitled to take a holiday on a bank or public holiday.  Rather, an employee must look to their contract of employment to establish the basis of their entitlement. An employee entitled to 20 days plus bank holidays would quite rightly expect the day off, as the Diamond Jubilee is indeed a bank holiday.

A more common example might be a contract entitling an employee to 24 days holiday in addition to six paid bank / public holidays. Such contracts usually go on to specify which six days will be given as holiday (Christmas Day, New Years Day and such like)! In that example, the employee therefore receives 30 days paid annual leave. As such, the employer would be compliant with the Working Time Regulations’ prescribed minimum of 28 days holiday.  The employee has no specific entitlement to take the Diamond Jubilee off as it is not one of the public holidays listed within the contract.

In relation to the Diamond Jubilee bank holiday, 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 procedures 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 a holiday for the Diamond Jubilee.

The Practical Aspect

There is nothing intrinsically special about the Diamond Jubilee from an employment law perspective. 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.

Jack Boyle
Employment Law

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