All full time workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks’ annual leave and an employer is entitled to include the 8 bank holidays within this total. Despite this, there is still no statutory right to time off (paid or otherwise) on any public holiday. Whether a worker can be required to work on a public holiday is a matter for the contract or, in some cases, simply the employer’s managerial prerogative.
The position of part-time workers in relation to public holidays can be tricky. Although there is no statutory right to paid public holidays (or time off in lieu of them) many employers grant this in addition to, for instance, four or five weeks’ holiday. However, some employers only give this benefit if the holiday in question falls on a day on which the worker would otherwise normally be at work. This can result in unfairness to part-time workers who happen not to work on Mondays (when most bank holidays fall).
One simple way to achieve equality in such cases is to give part-time workers a pro rata entitlement to public holidays, regardless of whether they normally work on days on which those holidays fall.
Another difficult area that employers need to navigate in relation to bank holidays is the potential for a claim for religion or belief discrimination. This could arise if an employer requests employees to take holiday during a Christmas shutdown period (for example) which includes some of the public holidays which occur during this period, A non-Christian employee could potentially complain that forcing him to take annual leave at this time of year (and possibly not allowing him to take annual leave at a different time of year which coincides with another religious festival) amounts to indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. In this situation, the employer would need to be able to show that its actions were objectively justified – in other words a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. This could be done by demonstrating the need for attendance at work at certain times of the year because of production levels/customer demand.