By Capital LawLLP

With the final Bank Holiday of the summer behind us and the news that the extra day off for the Royal wedding cost the UK economy up to £6billion, annual leave is high on the agenda for employers and employees. And with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, it’s an issue that isn’t going away. But what are British bosses and workers’ rights when it comes to time off?

According to Capital Law’s employment law specialist Gwen Drewitt, employees need to check their contracts before making plans for the Royal bumper bank holiday next year.

“In terms of the right to take holiday, full time employees who work five days a week are legally entitled to 28 days’ holiday a year, but whether these days include some or all of the 8 public and bank holidays in the UK (or any additional bank holidays) bank often comes down to the wording of the contract of employment. The industry within which the employer operates also dictates whether employees are allowed to take bank holidays or not. For example, hospitality workers are less likely than office workers to have an entitlement to take all the bank holidays as holidays, as public holidays are often their busiest times.”

Knowing your rights

While employees are legally entitled to take their annual holiday entitlement, there is limited legislation to protect them if they can’t take them when they want to. Employers are entitled by law, for example, to restrict holidays for new starters and to refuse holiday requests if they have a genuine business need, so it is important to check before booking that last minute holiday. Times like the summer and Christmas may be subject to a first-come-first-served system and employees have no legal grounds to dispute unless they feel (and can prove) that they are being discriminated against.

Do employers need to consider any other factors?

Employers often give employees enhanced holiday entitlement. Although there are benefits to such practices, such as rewarded loyalty and retaining employees, there are also pitfalls to doing this. Those who award an extra day’s holiday per year of service, for example, should only do so for up to five years or risk claims of age discrimination from younger employees. Similarly, extra days’ holiday as incentive for having a perfect sick record could fall foul of discrimination claims if staff who miss out on the extra days have underlying disabilities. Employers who opt to do this should carefully assess the risk, and take advice to steer clear of potential problems in the future.

Do Brits have it bad?

While the amount of holiday entitlement may seem unfair, especially for those of us who are not teachers or MPs enjoying the six week parliamentary recess at the moment, the rights of the British worker are actually surprisingly competitive compared to global entitlements.

In the USA those working for private companies have no legal entitlement to holidays. Similarly in Canada, there is no legal requirement for holidays until at least one year’s service. In terms of Europe, Spanish workers also have no minimum leave right until they hit a year’s service, but on their anniversary will get an envy-inducing 30 days plus up to 14 public holidays, depending on the region they work in.

Is this allowance subject to change?

SMEs have suggested in a recent study1 that they are considering docking holidays to save money, but unless they are currently giving staff more than the legal holiday entitlement (which, for SMEs, is unlikely) they risk breaking the law. If they choose to change the holiday entitlement of existing employees, they risk breaching contracts, staff resignation and Employment Tribunal claims. If they apply different rules to new employees they also risk discrimination claims.

Gwen continues:”It is important to balance the needs of the business against the issue of staff morale. Allowing employees to take an extra bank holiday like the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012 should be considered carefully, because although employers may not legally have to give it, they are still open to the consequence of de-motivated, aggrieved staff..”

About The Author

Capital LawLLP is a commercial law firm operating across six main disciplines — employment, company and commercial, intellectual property, recovery and insolvency, property and commercial litigation. In addition to these core legal services, the firm offers workplace issue resolution via its accredited mediator and a wide range of innovative training programmes.