Public Holidays in the UK: Everything you need to know

Public Holidays in the UK - Know the Rules

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Ever wondered where you stand legally when an additional bank holiday is provided in the UK? Do you know if you’ll get extra pay if you work on a public holiday in the UK? And what if you say no to working on a public holiday? We’ll tackle some common concerns businesses might have about public holidays in the UK.

The UK has 8 public holidays in England and Wales, 9 in Scotland, and 10 in Northern Ireland every year.

According to the Working Time Rules of 1998, these public holidays can count as part of an employee’s annual leave entitlement of 5.6 weeks. There’s no difference between public holidays and other days. Although the rules stipulate a specific amount of annual leave, some companies might give more.

Watch out for phrases like "20 days holiday plus public holidays" when going through your contract.

That could mean you’re getting either more or fewer paid holidays than the law requires. There’s an issue when companies have a holiday year that starts in April and ends in March. 

When Good Friday falls on March 29 and Easter Monday falls on April 1 in 2024, this will once again become a problem for contracts with such wording. In other words, there will be 10 holidays celebrated in the 2023–2024 holiday year, but only seven in the 2024–2025 holiday year.

The government has declared an extra public holiday for the coronation of the king on Monday, May 8, 2023. But that doesn't automatically mean you get the day off.

The wording in your employment contract will determine how your employer handles the extra holiday. If your contract says you’re entitled to paid time off on “all bank and public holidays,” your employer has to give you the day off.

Working on a public holiday in the UK doesn’t mean you’ll get paid more under the law. Your employment terms and conditions should state the pay rate for working on a public holiday. Unless your contract says otherwise, you’re not legally entitled to extra pay for working on a public holiday.

Your rights on public holidays are based on what you’ve agreed on verbally or through custom and practice if it’s not in writing. For example, if you usually get premium pay on public holidays, that could become a contractual entitlement.

Paid time off isn't guaranteed on public holidays in the UK.

If you’re not entitled to paid time off, refusing to work on a holiday might result in disciplinary action. However, if your contract says you can take public holidays as annual leave, your employer can’t force you to work or discipline you for refusing to work on a public holiday.

Employers must treat time-off requests consistently.

If you’re contractually bound to work on public holidays, you can’t just refuse to work without a good reason.

Your employer can only deny your request if there’s a compelling business reason. If they treat you differently, you could make a discrimination claim if you believe you were denied your request due to your age, religion, or race.

Our extensive experience and knowledge on all things UK employment law mean that you can be safe in the knowledge that your employees are treated right. Talk to us now to find out more.

Scott Winter

Scott Winter

HR Director

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