How to Handle Bank Holidays

Employers run the risk of a holiday ‘giveaway’ if they don’t check their employee contracts when it comes to annual leave.

Some employees are set to gain additional annual leave due to the days on which the Easter bank holidays fall this year, next year and in 2017. The wording in some employees’ contracts could land employers with an unanticipated liability for paying additional holiday, as a result of variations in Easter dates.

The issue will affect employers that operate an annual leave year that runs from 1 April to 31 March, and that set out their employees’ paid annual leave entitlement using wording along the lines of “20 days’ holiday plus bank holidays”.

Under working time rules, employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ annual leave, or 28 days’ leave per year for employees working a five-day week. The 28 days can include bank holidays, of which there are usually eight per year.

The way in which the 2015 Easter break fell meant that, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there were bank holidays on 3 and 6 April. In 2016, the bank holidays are earlier: Good Friday on 25 March and Easter Monday on 28 March. However, in 2017, Easter is later, with Good Friday falling on 14 April and Easter Monday on 17 April.

This means that two Easter breaks fall within a holiday year running from 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016: the Easter break that fell early in April 2015, and the Easter break falling in late March 2016. Affected employees will gain from two additional bank holidays (on top of the usual eight) for the leave year.

Failure to honour a contractual clause providing for “20 days’ holiday plus bank holidays” will result in the employer being in breach of contract, regardless of the fact that there are more than the usual number of bank holidays.

For a holiday year running 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017, employees would appear to lose out. There is no Easter break during the whole of the annual leave year, meaning that they will be entitled under their contract to just 26 days’ leave.

As an employer you should not rely on a bonus in holiday entitlement from one leave year to be ‘evened up’ by giving employees less than the statutory minimum in the next leave year. The 28-day entitlement is a statutory minimum and you cannot negotiate out of it, other than by an agreement with your employees to carry forward up to eight days’ holiday into the following leave year.

If you’re not sure what you need to do to avoid being in breach of your employee contracts, contact me on 0118 940 3032 or email and we’ll help you work out the numbers.