HR's Guide to Bank Holidays
With the Easter Weekend on the horizon, you may have some staffing challenges on your hands.
Bank holidays can be hectic times for those in HR with a minefield of rules and regulations to work through.
To help you get squared away with the regulations around bank holidays, we’re here to help you understand everything you need to know. Then, you can take on any staffing issues that you may have with ease and confidence.
Employee Rights Regarding Bank Holidays
While many of us think that our right to bank holidays are enshrined in the law, in actual fact there’s no statutory right to them. There’s also no right to any additional pay when working on a bank holiday, such as time and a half.
Although many bank holidays follow a religious date, such as Easter or Christmas, a scheduled employee can’t refuse to work on the grounds of a religious reason.
Though there are few rights around bank holidays, there’s one big rule that you can’t violate. All employees must be treated equally with this allowance.
This means that part-time employees must be treated in the same manner as full-time employees, if you give one set of employees a paid day off then the other set must be treated in a similar fashion. Even if a part-time worker isn’t scheduled for a bank holiday they should be given this day off in lieu, otherwise this could be seen to be preferential to full-time employees.
This also applies to religious groups, as one group - including the non-religious - should never be at a disadvantage when compared to another. Direct or indirect discrimination can open up a can of worms so to speak, as wrestling with the Equality Act as it pertains to religion can prove tricky.
If an employee is sick over a period that contains a bank holiday, the requirements vary depending on the employee's holiday allowance. If they only have the minimum legal entitlement of 5.6 weeks and bank holidays form part of that allowance, you must give them a replacement day's holiday. If your employee has paid time off on bank holidays in addition to their statutory holiday entitlement, their right to a day off in lieu will depend on your company policy, standard company practices, and their employment contract.
It’s possible for employers to mandate that members of staff use their annual leave while the workplace is closed, for instance on Christmas Day. However, you must give them at least 2 days prior notice if you wish for them to do so. You can also give them the option to take this as an unpaid day, which wouldn’t impact their overall holiday allowance.
Setting Out Clear Policies
As so much of the language around bank holidays comes from the contract of the employee and the handbook, you should ensure that this is as clear as possible. This should also be consistent across employees, so there’s no chance that there’s any perceived unfairness among staff.
This should also outline how full-time, part-time and pro rata employees can expect these holidays to be treated. Clear communication will likely shine a light on any issues before they can progress into problems.
You may also want to set out a provision for bank holidays around other faiths. For example, if a Muslim colleague would prefer time off at Eid rather than Christmas, then you may want to allow them to do this. Not only does this reflect well on you as an employer, but it may also allow you to cover necessary duties over festive periods more easily.
You should also be aware of the wording of your holiday policy; if this runs from April to March each year, then the timing of the Easter weekend can make this inconsistent year on year. Depending on when these bank holidays fall, your colleagues may end up with more bank holidays in one year than the following one.
Remember that it can pay to be generous and flexible with bank holidays. While you’re not legally obligated to pay extra for employees working on bank holidays, allow flexibility for workers of other faiths or give additional paid days when the office is closed, doing so can really impact employee satisfaction.
If employees are getting the bare minimum in terms of holidays, this could be an incentive for them to look elsewhere for a workplace with better holiday allowances, as they may be missing out on over a week of paid holidays that they would get elsewhere. Be understanding of this and make reasonable adjustments where required.
There are a few different approaches that you can take when it comes to bank holiday policy:
Giving All Staff Leave
Requiring that all staff take leave seems to be a simpler answer to the bank holiday conundrum. However, for individual departments, this can cause havoc with necessary systems. This may mean that some staff come under greater stress as they try to prepare for this time.
Adding Bank Holidays to Annual Allowance
To give greater flexibility, you could also add these days into the overall allowance. This constitutes an additional eight days which staff can use as they please. Remember, if you want to require that these are taken for a bank holiday, you must give a minimum of two days of notice.
Alternating Popular Days Annually
One of the biggest headaches for HR where bank holidays are not automatically added is dealing with individual requests. If an entire department wants to take a long weekend, this may not be feasible regardless of whether this is a bank holiday or not.
You may want to alternate which members of staff are granted leave on popular days each year. They can have the right of first refusal if they don’t want to take it off. However, this can cause issues during implementation, as you’ll have to choose a pecking order for staff.
Dealing with Grievances around Bank Holidays
The public perception of bank holidays doesn’t always line up with the legalities or the language used in a contract. Many employees feel that they’re entitled to paid leave on these days, a higher rate of pay or time off in lieu – even if it's outlined in their contract that they won't receive this. They may also believe that they are being treated differently to other employees, even if this is not the case.
This can be the cause of grievances, though if you have all your documentation correctly assembled this doesn’t have to escalate. If an employee comes to you with a grievance concerning bank holidays, you should clearly demonstrate to your colleague that you're investigating the issue. This may be as simple as highlighting the relevant area in your company policies or their employment contract.
For more complicated cases, you may have to consider previous cases and scenarios. In the case of any accused unfairness, you’ll have to compare the treatment of one employee to another while still respecting their privacy. You may want to ask that they submit grievances in writing so that you can respond in kind and record all correspondence on the matter. If in doubt, seek advice from the CIPD or an employment law specialist.
Bank holidays don’t have to cause a headache, as long as you make these preparations and keep things clear for your colleagues. Most of the issues surrounding these holidays come from a lack of information, so combat this with a robust policy and clear language.
We hope that you enjoy your upcoming bank holiday weekend!