In recent weeks, the country has been celebrating the marriage of Prince William to Catherine Middleton. Such was the level of interest, a public holiday was created on 29th April in order to allow the British public to commemorate the wedding day. Thousands descended on London to experience the celebrations first hand, while countless others made plans for their own royal celebrations.

While preparations were made for the big day, many employers across the country arranged for their offices to be closed in order to allow their employees to enjoy the holiday. Others questioned whether their staff were entitled to take the day off and how this would fit with their ordinary annual leave entitlement. This article examines this issue in more detail.

Statutory entitlement?

Currently workers are entitled to a statutory 5.6 weeks of annual leave in any working year, inclusive of public holidays.

The question which arises is whether or not employees are automatically entitled to paid leave for public holidays on top of their annual entitlement, or whether these are included in the 5.6 weeks. It seems that, particularly in relation to ‘special’ public holidays such as the Royal Wedding, but also for public and bank holidays in general, there is an assumption among employees that they will automatically be entitled to paid time off work.

This is not, in fact, the case. Whether or not someone receives paid time off for public holidays depends on the terms of their contract of employment. There is no statutory entitlement to paid leave on bank holidays or public holidays. Should an employer choose to allow their staff to take the day off, paid, this can legitimately be counted towards the holiday entitlement of those employees. Furthermore, if an office remains open during a bank or public holiday, employees are not entitled by law to an increased wage for the day, which appears to be another common misconception.

Terms of the contract of employment

The terms and conditions on which people do or do not work public and bank holidays depend entirely on the contract of employment concerned. If the contract provides for the treatment of bank holidays i.e. “twenty eight days of holiday per year, and, in addition, public holidays and bank holidays”, employees will be entitled to paid leave on these days. If, however, the contract is silent on public holidays (i.e. “six weeks of holidays”) then, on the wording of the contract, the employee will not automatically be entitled to paid leave for public holidays. There are various forms such a clause may take, for example, specific holidays may be permitted or excluded under the contract.

If a forthcoming public holiday is not an automatic entitlement, it may be wise to alert employees to this fact in order to allow them to request holidays for this date under the usual procedure.