In order to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day in 2020, the government has decided to move the early May bank holiday, which is usually scheduled for the first Monday in May, to Friday 8 May.

In the UK, a bank holiday is a national holiday. These holidays are created by legislation and have increased in number over the years. Together with traditional national holidays which exist at common law (such as Christmas Day), bank holidays are often referred to as public holidays. Interestingly, public holidays are not the same in the different parts of the UK. For example, St Andrew’s Day is only a public holiday in Scotland.

Despite their name, it is important to remember that employees do not have a statutory right to paid or unpaid leave on any bank holiday. Whether a worker is required to work on any given bank holiday depends on their contract of employment.

Given this, the government decision to change the date of the early May bank holiday will have no impact on employees who are contractually obliged to work during bank holidays. However, difficulties may arise where employees are usually entitled to take a day off on bank holidays.

In circumstances where an employee has the contractual right to take annual leave on bank holidays, without a specific date being mentioned, they will automatically be able to take the new date and no contractual obligation will be breached.

However, where an employee has the contractual right to take annual leave on a specific date, e.g. the first Monday in May, employers will want to take steps to avoid any potential confusion or disruption. If this is not done, it could lead to a situation in which employees are off on a day that their employer is open for business and wanting to work on a day when the business is closed.

Employers should therefore quickly decide what they plan to do in May and talk to their employees as soon as possible. If there is a contractual right to the first Monday in May and the employer wants to close on the Friday, it may be necessary to negotiate a one-off amendment. Some employees may already have made plans for the original holiday weekend which they cannot now change.

With a bit of goodwill and flexibility it is usually possible to agree simple solutions in such situations. That is always helped by being clear about the business’s intentions early and following up with direct discussions.