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Rebecca Dennis

A Jubilee Celebration and another day off, or is it? asks Rebecca Dennis of Goughs

Do employers have to honour the additional bank holiday for the Queen’s platinum jubilee? That – says Rebecca Dennis of Wiltshire law firm Goughs – depends on the contract.

The annual Spring bank holiday which usually takes place at the end of May will now take place on Friday, June 3.

In addition to that, Thursday, June 2 is also a bank holiday day creating a wonderful 4 day weekend to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

How did bank holidays ever come about in the first place? Well, for most of the 19th century employees were required to work every day save for Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday. They were ‘holy days’ and brought welcome relief for those working in a fundamentally agrarian economy. Another 33 Saints Days were also potentially available although not for bankers. The confusion made it difficult to conduct financial business.

Sir John Lubbock’s Bank Holiday Act of 1871 was the key point in time when the need for clearly designated bank holidays became obvious and the existence was enshrined in statute. He was a banker and politician.

The original plan for bank holidays to apply only to banks and financial institutions. The parliamentary debate in 1871 records this: “The question of holidays was generally left to be settled between employers and employed, and it was very easy for most employers who desired it, to give their men a holiday at a small pecuniary sacrifice to themselves; but that was impossible in the case of banks so long as the holders of bills of exchange and promissory notes had power to require payment on those days.

“In order to avoid bankruptcy it was necessary that banks should be kept open on those days, and thus the clerks could not have holidays on – such occasions. He believed a feeling was generally growing that work in England was quite hard enough, and that additional holidays would not be unwelcome to those to whom they were given, nor unpopular with the general community.”

The words ‘to give their men a holiday at a small pecuniary sacrifice’ do cause me to smile. Law makers and employers had yet to grasp the concepts of female emancipation, paid leave, limits on working time and a little something called the ‘work-life balance’!

Anyway, this is how we ended up with fixed bank holidays on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Good Friday and Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the spring bank holiday in May and the summer day in August making a grand total of eight.

Remember that there is in fact no automatic right to time off on these days. It all depends on the contract of employment and the requirements of the business. So, do you have to honour all of these days and does this also apply to the special and additional ninth day this year?

The answer is that it depends on the wording of the contract of employment.

If the contract says that an employee is entitled to bank holiday in addition to their annual leave entitlement and does not state the numbers or specific days of those bank holidays then plainly employees will be entitled to all days, whenever they may be, including the additional Platinum Jubilee day.

If this is not possible for operational reasons, then employers should allow employees a day off in lieu at another time.

However, if the contract says that the employee is entitled to the existing eight named bank holidays or the ‘usual bank holidays’ or bank holidays are included within annual leave entitlement, then an employer will not be required to give the Platinum Jubilee as an additional day of leave.

This means an employer could close on the additional day and require employees to take that day out of their existing annual leave entitlement or a business could carry on as normal and simply require staff to work. This would be permissible however either scenario it is likely to cause consternation to employees.

I suggest that employers keep in mind the recent phenomenon known as the ‘Great Resignation’ precipitated in part by the pandemic. Employees are statistically more likely now than ever before to leave employment in the pursuit of better terms and benefits.

Business should heed the wise words of Lubbock who observed not only that ‘work was quite hard enough’ but also that holidays are ‘not unpopular with the general community’.

Indeed they are not! A rested, motivated and cheerful workforce is always the best plan.

Rebecca Dennis heads the Employment Law team at Goughs Solicitors

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