Royal Wedding? It’s Also a Legal Issue For Employers and Workers in the U.K.

Editor’s Note: This week’s Royal Wedding is provoking interest around the world, but it’s also a management issue in the U.K. because workers get the day off as an extra “bank holiday.” Here are some of the issues that British companies have to deal with when it comes to a national celebration.

By Annabel Kaye

The Royal Wedding extra bank holiday has produced a predictable flurry of queries about who pays for the extra day. The answer to this lies in the contract of employment.

The wording of the specific employment contract has to be looked at. If paid holiday is expressed as “28 days per year inclusive of bank and public holidays,” then there is no right to an extra paid day for the Royal Wedding. If paid annual leave is expressed as “20 days plus bank and public holidays,” then there may well be a right to the extra day, although some contracts define what is meant by “bank and public holidays” and list them out. In the latter case, the extra day would probably not be included and so would not be paid.

There is no general right to be on leave on a public holiday – that again depends on the wording of the contract of employment.

The modern concept of paid annual leave

The whole idea of having paid annual leave is a relatively modern one. Public holidays were invented in the Victorian era, but it took a long time for paid annual leave to become the norm.

Workers were once required to work as many hours as their boss wanted them to. The battle ground was not annual leave, but working time.

Weekends were not leisure time for working people, and although they might have been given time off work to go to church, this is a long way from the weekend as we understand it. Saturday was generally a working day and Sunday a church going day.

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The traditional northern Wakes weeks were unpaid from the 1870s until the 20th century, being a period of a week (or two) when mills were shut by the owners for refits or maintenance. The August bank holiday was created in 1871, along with Easter Monday, Whit Monday and Boxing Day.

Annual leave as a matter of health and safety

During the 1970s the old bank holidays were changed slightly, and New Year’s Day and May Day were added.

European law tends to treat annual leave as a matter of health and safety, and current minimum entitlements to annual leave are regulated under the Working Time Regulations in the UK. The entitlement for a five day a week worker is 28 days including bank and public holiday, although many employers give more than this via their contracts.

The progressive entitlement to annual leave has created an entire leisure industry of its own. When Dickens’s Ebenezer Scrooge complained about the introduction of the Boxing Day holiday, his business instincts were off base – he should have bought shares in the railway!

This was originally published in the United Kingdom on Irenicon’s Employment law in a mad world blog.


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