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What are bank holidays?

The term ‘bank holiday’ generally refers to public holidays in the UK. 

Legally speaking, there is a difference between bank holidays and public holidays. 

Bank holidays are those days created under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971. They are either listed in the Act (eg Easter Monday in England and Wales) or proclaimed by the monarch. 

Public holidays have different meanings in England, Wales and Scotland. In England and Wales, they are common law holidays (ie those established by convention), like Christmas Day and Good Friday. In Scotland, public holidays are specific local holidays determined by local authorities (eg Victoria Day, celebrated on the last Monday before or on 24 May).

How many bank holidays are there?

There are currently 8 bank holidays in England and Wales. These are:

  • New Year’s Day

  • Good Friday

  • Easter Monday

  • Early May bank holiday

  • Spring bank holiday

  • Summer bank holiday

  • Christmas Day

  • Boxing Day

There are currently 9 bank holidays in Scotland. These are:

  • New Year’s Day

  • 2nd January

  • Good Friday

  • Early May bank holiday

  • Spring bank holiday

  • Summer bank holiday

  • St Andrew’s Day

  • Christmas Day

  • Boxing Day

If a bank holiday falls on a weekend, a substitute bank holiday is granted. This will normally take place on the Monday following the bank holiday.

The weekdays on which bank holidays fall change yearly. You can find out which days will be bank holidays in a given year on the government’s website.

Can bank holidays be changed?

Bank holidays can be changed. This is typically done by Royal Proclamation (ie officially declared by the King).

Changes that can be made to bank holidays include: 

Are bank holidays paid annual leave days?

Almost all UK workers are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks of paid holiday per year. This is known as ‘statutory leave entitlement’ or ‘annual leave’. For more information, read How to calculate holiday entitlement.

However, the Working Time Regulations 1998 do not differentiate between bank holidays and regular working days. This means that employers are not legally required to give staff members paid time off for bank holidays or to offer additional pay for working bank holidays. Employers may, however, choose to do this at their own discretion.

An employer’s rules regarding bank holidays should be clearly set out in an Annual leave policy or in employment contracts (eg an Employment contract or a Zero hours contract). Generally, these documents will set out whether:

  • staff get paid time off for bank holidays

  • staff members’ holiday entitlement is inclusive or exclusive of bank holidays (ie whether bank holidays form part of the minimum annual leave entitlement or if they are additional)

  • staff can work on bank holidays in return for different days off (known as an ‘alternate day’ or ‘day in lieu’)

  • enhanced pay is given to staff members who work on bank holidays

Should employers give staff bank holidays off work?

Generally, this will depend on what is written in employment documents (eg contracts and/or holiday policies). For example, employment documents may state that: 

  • annual leave is in addition to all bank and public holidays – here staff would be entitled to time off for all bank holidays in addition to their regular holiday entitlement

  • annual leave is in addition to the usual bank and public holidays – here staff would be entitled to time off for the usual bank holidays (eg the 8 recurring bank holidays in England and Wales) in addition to their regular holiday entitlement. Any unusual bank holidays may or may not be given off in addition to the standard annual leave entitlement. Employers may make a decision, or this can be discussed with staff

  • annual leave entitlement is inclusive of bank and public holidays – here, bank holidays should be taken off, but this forms part of staff’s annual leave entitlement

  • bank and public holidays do not form part of annual leave entitlement – staff do not get time off for bank holidays and instead have to work, unless they choose to take bank or public holidays off as part of their regular holiday entitlement and their holiday request is approved by the employer

Note that, in England and Wales, bank holidays tend to be automatic public holidays. This means that most workers are given the day off, and the day is generally observed as a holiday. However, this is not the case in Scotland, where there is less uniformity regarding which bank and local holidays are granted as paid leave to employees. As a result, Scottish employment contracts will usually provide a holiday entitlement of a mixture of bank and local holidays.

What does this mean in practice?

Employers should follow what their employment documents say and grant staff paid leave accordingly. If employment documents do not say anything about bank holidays, employers should speak to their staff and come to an agreement.  

If staff are required to work on bank holidays, staff members cannot typically refuse (this could result in disciplinary action). 

Employers should also bear in mind the following:

  • employers can require staff members to take holiday at certain times (eg over closure periods at Christmas) provided they provide sufficient notice 

  • if a bank holiday falls on a day that a staff member usually works, and the workplace is closed on that day, the employer can require the staff member to take the day off as part of their holiday entitlement. They must clearly communicate this to the staff member

  • if a bank holiday falls on a day that a staff member usually works, but they do not want to take the day off, the staff member can request to work that day and take a day off in lieu (ie at a later date). Employers don’t have to agree to this

  • if a bank holiday falls on a day that a staff member usually doesn’t work (eg because they work part-time Tuesday to Thursday), the employer cannot require the staff to take that day off as part of their holiday entitlement

  • if bank holidays are included in holiday entitlement, staff members will accrue (ie build up) days off work for bank holidays while off work on sick, maternity, paternity, adoption or shared parental leave

What if an additional bank holiday is announced?

Sometimes, a new or unusual bank holiday may be announced, often to honour a person or event. The same rules apply to new or unusual bank holidays as apply to normal bank holidays. In other words, employers should follow their usual policies.

However, even when not contractually obliged to grant time off for bank holidays, employers should consider whether they wish to do so on any new or unusual bank holidays. For example, as a gesture of goodwill to staff members or, where applicable, in recognition of the societal significance of the bank holiday event (eg a monarch’s coronation or funeral).

Depending on what their employment documents say, employers could also consider:

  • incentivising staff to work on a bank holiday by offering them enhanced pay or a day off at a later date

  • allowing staff time off in exchange for them working another day (eg working on a Saturday)

  • allowing staff to take unpaid time off

If staff are entitled to time off for all bank holidays, employers need to comply with this commitment.

In all circumstances, it is a good idea for employers to speak to their staff about the situation and to come to an agreement with them.

For more information, read Employee holidays. If you have any questions or concerns about bank holidays and annual leave entitlement, Ask a lawyer.

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