Sarah Taylor: How can employers organise an unplanned bank holiday?

bank holidayFollowing the announcement of Monday’s bank holiday earlier this week, businesses have been rushing to plan accordingly. There are no statutory rules that employers must follow for public holidays as every organisation will differ in its approach, influenced in a large part by the way in which its employment contracts are drafted.

While an additional public holiday entitles many individuals to an extra day off work, it is not a statutory right. This holiday will operate in the same way as other bank holidays, which means that entitlement depends on the wording of an individual’s employment contract. Some contracts will provide for a certain number of days’ annual leave in addition to public holidays, without limiting those public holidays to the standard eight in England and Wales, nine in Scotland, and 10 in Northern Ireland, which will entitle the worker to the additional public holiday on 19 September.

Alternatively, other contracts may expressly limit the number of public holidays to the usual or standard public holidays, in which case, the worker would not have a legal right to time off on Monday. Some contracts may require employees to work on public holidays and in some cases, they may be entitled to higher rates of pay or to take another day off in lieu.

Employers, ultimately, have a duty to safeguard their employees’ wellbeing and the government urges employers to consider requests to take annual leave on 19 September with sensitivity if the individual does not have a legal right to time off. Permitting time off to process potentially strong and difficult emotions is also a way for employers to support their staff during unprecedented times.

With schools closed on Monday and much of London’s transport network disrupted, many employees may struggle to undertake a normal working day. Empployers should be sensitive to individual circumstances and may need to be flexible to accommodate different needs if they decide to keep the business running.

Despite some organisations offering double or even triple pay for working on a public holiday, this again is not a legal requirement unless it is expressly included in employment contracts. In any case, increased economic pressures from energy bills may force some employers to have to close for the day if they are unable to meet the higher employee wage bill. There will, however, be legal implications of closing a business on a day on which workers expect to work.

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For unavoidable reasons, organisations have been given little time to make decisions about how to approach Monday. Whatever decisions are made, employers should communicate these clearly and with sensitivity, given the heightened emotional context and national and cultural significance of recent events.

Sarah Taylor is a senior knowledge lawyer at Stevens and Bolton