The Coronation Bank Holiday - what employers need to know
In January 2023, the Government announced that there would be an additional bank holiday to mark the Coronation of King Charles III. The coronation itself is taking place on Saturday 6th May but the bank holiday will be on Monday 8th May and will take effect across the United Kingdom.
It might be thought that this bank holiday would apply to everyone, but this may not be the case, as the question of whether employees are entitled to an extra day off depends to a significant extent on the wording of their employment contracts.
What does the contract say?
As regards extra bank holidays, the devil is in the detail. Employment law says that an employee will only be able to take extra bank holidays if it says in their employment contract that they are entitled to:
“X days of annual leave plus bank/public holidays”
If, however, their contract says that they have
“X days of annual leave inclusive of bank holidays”,
“X days of annual leave plus the usual 8 UK bank holidays (in England and Wales)”,
then regardless of what the Government has announced, it will be at the employer’s discretion whether or not to allow employees to have the additional bank holiday.
What about part-time employees?
Again, their entitlement to the extra bank holiday depends entirely on the wording of their employment contract as described above.
If their pattern of working days mean that they wouldn’t be working on the bank holiday, then their holiday entitlement should be adjusted to take the extra day into account on a pro-rata basis which will help to avoid the risk of a claim for less favourable treatment of part-time workers.
Shift workers may not be expecting to be given the day off, but they may be expecting that they will be paid at a bank holiday rate of pay. Regardless of their expectations, once again the wording of the employment contract will determine whether they receive the ‘bank holiday’ rate of pay. If it says that they get a higher rate of pay for any bank holiday, then this would include the coronation bank holiday. However, if it references only the eight standard bank holidays (in England and Wales) then there is no entitlement to a higher rate of pay for work undertaken on 8th May.
What should employers do?
Even if the employment contract says that the employee isn’t entitled to the extra bank holiday, that may not be the end of it for the employer. Failure to handle the situation carefully may end up alienating employees who consider that they are not being treated in a reasonable manner, the letter of the law notwithstanding.
It's important that the employer can draw on precedent for bank holidays outside the usual annual selection – for example, the bank holiday to mark the Platinum Jubilee on 3rd June 2022. If that was observed, then it is likely that employees will expect the coronation bank holiday to be allowed likewise.
However, the bank holiday of 19th September 2022 for the Queen’s funeral was a slightly different matter as country-wide closures of businesses meant that employees were not generally expected to work that day, regardless of what their contract said and an employer who tried to compel them to do so might well have attracted adverse publicity. It’s best therefore, if attempting to justify not allowing the coronation bank holiday, to treat the State funeral bank holiday as an extraordinary circumstance.
As we have mentioned above, the coronation bank holiday applies to the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland. However, it must be noted that in Northern Ireland, rather than 8 bank holidays, there are 10 – albeit the practice of taking them depends on both the sector and matters such as cultural groups, religious and political opinion and tradition. These matters will doubtless apply when considering whether to grant employees the coronation bank holiday and we recommend speaking to an expert in Northern Irish employment law before making a definite decision, as acting in haste could lead to claims of discrimination.
The pragmatic choice
Although, as we have said, the wording of the employment contract will be the final arbiter of entitlement to the coronation bank holiday, there is an argument to be made for pragmatism. Many employees will be looking forward to the holiday and there may be a degree of discontent if they are denied it because the employer seems determined to do so. A reasonable approach would ensure employees’ goodwill is retained (particularly important at a time when many businesses are facing a skills shortage and are keen to retain their key workers).
If you haven’t come to a decision on how to handle the coronation bank holiday yet and want some guidance on how to handle it from an HR perspective, you should speak to one of our Employment Law specialists, who can talk you through the practicalities and pitfalls of any decision.