HR · 15 December 2016

A small business guide to opening on a bank holiday

Opening on a bank holiday
By opening on a bank holiday, a small business can make gains over larger competition

With three bank holidays landing between August and the end of 2017, it’s important for any small business owner to fully understand the rules and regulations regarding bank holiday trading regulations.

[This article was originally published in December 2016, but has been updated to reflect 2017 policy]

Our run-down of the existing legislation will make sure you stay within the law and avoid any penalties, before we reveal the true value of opening on a bank holiday.

Remaining UK bank holidays in 2017

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

28 August Monday Summer bank holiday
25 December Monday Christmas Day
26 December Tuesday Boxing Day

Scotland

30 November Thursday St Andrew’s Day
25 December Monday Christmas Day
26 December Tuesday Boxing Day

The size of your premises

The government states that small shops in England and Wales have the right to open “any day or hour” of the calendar year.

The definition of small shops, crucially, is premises up to and including 280 metres squared – restrictions still apply even if a section is closed off.

If your company operates beyond the restrictions, it must stay closed on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday, and is subject to Sunday trading laws for other bank holidays – a maximum of six consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm.

Regional bank holiday structures

In England and Wales, eight bank holidays are given every year. Two additional days are allocated in Northern Ireland for St Patrick’s Day and Orangemen’s Day, leaving ten overall.

In Scotland, Easter Monday and the late-August bank holiday are not allocated, but three additional dates are given, leaving nine in total.

Payroll and working hours

Employers opening on a bank holiday should know that no special employment rights exist for staff coming into work – normal contract terms will apply.

There are no obligations for an increased rate of pay, and there are no rights for employees to demand time off due to a bank holiday.

However, some employers might decide to offer higher pay rates, such as pay-and-a-half, as an incentive for employees to work bank holidays. If this is specified in the employee’s contract, refusal to work would represent a breach of terms.

Part-time workers have the legal right to be treated no less favourably than full-time colleagues. But, giving full-time workers time off on a bank holiday and not part-timers could be seen as unfair. To remove risk, some employers might give part-time employees a pro-rata bank holiday allowance, so their entitlement to annual leave reflects that of their full-time colleagues.

Contracts

Bank holiday working requirements might differ depending on the wording in an employee’s contract. Terms stating that a worker has “28 days plus bank holidays” means public holidays are added on top of 28 days of annual leave.

However, if terms state “28 days inclusive of bank holidays”, then the employee has 20 days of annual leave plus eight for public holidays, automatically allocated.

Special employment rights

Legally, an employee cannot refuse to work based on religious grounds. As stated by government, “no automatic rights exist” for workers in Britain on public holidays.

However, it is important to be aware of indirect discrimination. For example, not allowing a Christian employee time off on Christmas Day could be considered indirect religious discrimination, in which case there could be a legal argument against the employer. 

To minimise the risk of discrimination, employers could assess a request for leave on an individual basis.

Opening on a bank holiday: What do you stand to gain?

Before this year’s May Day bank holiday, Business Advice uncovered just how much profit a small business owner was sacrificing by not opening on a bank holiday.

In choosing to shut up shop on every UK public holiday, small firms were found to forfeit £2,163 annually. 

Despite research from Yell Business finding that each bank holiday was worth an average £253 in profit to a small business, almost a third of owners opted for a day’s holiday instead.

Delving a little deeper, the same study found that sole traders and freelancers stood to lose the most by not working on a bank holiday. An extra £263 was at stake for each day, as opposed to the owners of micro firms who lost a slightly less £158.

For the entrepreneurs that appreciate the break, Yell Business marketing director, Mark Clisby, offered the following advice: “Ensure you update your website and social media channels with your opening times so it’s really clear to customers when they’re able to use your services again.”

Opening on a bank holiday? Five ways to say thank you to employees.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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