Before buying their Will and Kate flags and their commemorative crockery, some employees will need to check their Employment Contracts and Handbooks to find out if they will be entitled to receive the extra ‘Royal Wedding’ bank holiday.

In case you have been living on the moon recently, Prince William, the 2nd in line to the British throne, is due to wed Kate Middleton on Friday 29th April 2011, and the build-up and ceremony will be widely watched throughout the country. In order to facilitate a country-wide celebration, the Government has declared the day as a bank holiday which will be in addition to the UK’s usual 8 bank holidays. David Cameron said: “We want to mark the day as one of national celebration – a public holiday will ensure the most people possible will have a chance to celebrate on the day.”

Yet this announcement may not be well received by employers up and down the country who will be expected to pay their staff for an additional day of paid leave as well as losing profits for that day. Concerns are understandable given that the extra bank holiday follows a late Easter, making 2 four-day weekends in succession. This leaves three “working” days in between that are likely to be taken as holidays, sick days or non-productive work days. Businesses are already experiencing problems with too many people wanting time off. The Department of Business has estimated the cost upon the British economy for the extra bank holiday to be around £2.9 billion. This is not even counting the three days in between.

While most people have welcomed the prospect of an extra holiday, employees should not bank on automatically receiving this benefit. The law in England and Wales does not give employees an automatic right to paid leave on bank holidays. Businesses that are reluctant to permit their staff an extra bank holiday will only legally be obliged to do so if their company Employment Contracts and/or Handbooks particularly state an employee is entitled to, for example, ‘20 days holiday plus bank holidays’.

Where an employee’s Employment Contract/ Handbook specifically sets out the dates of all bank holidays that can be taken, for example, ‘Christmas Day, Boxing Day, May Day, August bank holiday’, that employee will not be entitled to paid leave on the Royal Wedding bank holiday. Similarly, where the Employment Contract/Handbook simply states that the employee is entitled to “28 days holiday per year” which is the legal minimum amount of annual leave for a full-time worker under the Working Time Regulations 1998, there will be no such contractual entitlement to extra paid leave. An employer with such a holiday clause may decide to close down on the 29 April 2011 but require employees to take the day out of their annual holiday allowance.

The best advice for employers is to be prepared – check your contracts of employment to see whether there is an obligation to provide the bank holiday, take advice as appropriate, communicate the position clearly as to whether the holiday is an extra or included in holiday entitlement in good time to your employees. Also ensure that there is consistency of treatment across your workforce.