D-BRIEF – Employment & Pensions Blog: Are employees entitled to the day off for Queen Elizabeth II funeral?

People from across the world are grieving following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II. A period of national mourning has been announced, as the nation comes to terms with the passing of the UK’s longest serving monarch. The Queen’s state funeral is due to be held on Monday 19 September and has been declared a bank holiday. Below we discuss whether employees are entitled to be granted the day off work.

Minimum annual leave entitlement

Legally, employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks or 28 days of paid annual leave. Of those 28 days, 20 days are required under the Working Time Regulations and the remaining 8 days reflect the number of usual bank holidays per year.

Are employees entitled to the day off for the Queen’s funeral?

Whilst the Queen’s state funeral has been declared a bank holiday, this does not necessarily mean employees are entitled to the day off. Whether an employee is legally entitled to take an additional day off work depends upon the wording of their employment contract.

Typically, employment contracts reflect the minimum statutory entitlement; with most contracts of employment providing a right for employees to take “28 days’ annual leave” or “20 days’ annual leave plus the usual public holidays”. This wording is prescriptive and creates an absolute limit on the number of days to which an employee is entitled to take off per year. Employees with this contractual wording would not therefore have a legal entitlement to an additional day’s leave as this extra bank holiday would not be considered ‘usual’.

Conversely, a contract of employment which states that an employee is entitled to “20 days paid leave per year plus bank holidays” does not create a limit on the number of bank holidays an employee is entitled to. Employees would therefore be entitled to the additional day, either on the day of the funeral itself or an extra day in lieu.

Requiring employees to take annual leave

If employees are not contractually entitled to the bank holiday, provided it is not prohibited by the employment contract (which would be unusual), employers have the right to require their staff to take annual leave on a specific date so could require staff to take a day’s annual leave on Monday. In order to do so, an employer has to provide notice which must be at least twice as long as the leave they want their staff to take i.e. for 1 day, the employer must provide 2 days’ notice. Employers should be mindful that employees may not appreciate being told that they must take use their annual leave entitlement on a specific date and this will not be good for employee morale, particularly where employees are mid-way through a holiday year and have already allocated their entitlement.

Practical considerations

Even where employees are not contractually entitled to an additional day’s leave, employers may wish to consider granting employees the time off work as a gesture of goodwill and to maintain employee relations. Staff may expect their employers to be flexible in the circumstances, particularly as many employees may wish to watch the funeral to pay their respects and or may have childcare issues as schools will be closed for the day.

Where employees are not contractually entitled to a further day’s leave, ultimately it is a decision for the employer.  Whatever approach is taken, it is important it be applied consistently across the business to avoid claims of discrimination. Particular care should be given to part-time staff or staff who work irregular hours. Should an employer decide to allow its employees an additional paid day’s leave, then part-time and irregular hours staff should also be granted additional time off on a pro-rata basis. However this could be practically difficult to implement mid-way through a holiday year therefore employers may look to give these employees the benefit of a full day also.

Employers should be alive to the same issues should a further bank holiday be declared to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III.

For further information, please contact a member of our Employment Team.

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