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The State Funeral and bank holiday: implications for employers

13 September 2022

The death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has triggered a period of national mourning, ending with the State Funeral on 19 September 2022 which has been announced as a bank holiday. This article looks at some implications for employers during this period and on the day of the funeral.

Before the funeral

There are no specific legal requirements in relation to the period leading up to the funeral itself, but employers may receive requests for annual leave from employees wanting to travel to London. Media reports suggest that some 750,000 people are expected to visit London while the Queen is lying in state at Westminster Hall. Employees may not be able to give the amount of advance notice you would normally require for holiday requests, so you may need to decide on a consistent policy stance.

Transport for London has published travel advice for the mourning period which warns about road closures, stations closures and busy services. Office-based staff in London may want to work from home if possible, given the potential overcrowding. Staff in hospitality and retail may be needed to work overtime in order to cope with the number of visitors in the capital.

The bank holiday for the State Funeral

Although a bank holiday has been declared for Monday 19 September, this does not necessarily mean that employees have a legal right to take time off work. The government announcement of a bank holiday for the State Funeral confirms that rights to time off depend on the contract, and arrangements are a matter for discussions between the individual and their employer. Nevertheless, the announcement says, “The bank holiday will be a unique national moment, and we would encourage employers to respond sensitively to requests from workers who wish to take time off.”

Some common questions are:

Is there a right to take time off?

There’s no general right to a day off on a bank holiday, and whether staff have the right to a day off will depend on the wording of their employment contract. Technically, employees will only be entitled to the extra public holiday if their employment contract says that they are entitled to X days of annual leave plus bank/public holidays. If their employment contract says that they are entitled to X days of annual leave inclusive of bank holidays, or X days of annual leave plus the usual 8 bank holidays (in England and Wales) it will be at the employer’s discretion whether to give employees the day off. Many employers may choose to follow the government’s suggestion and be sensitive to requests for time off, particularly during the funeral itself.

What about part-time workers?

Whether part-time workers are entitled to extra paid holiday is also dependent on the wording of their contract. Some employment contracts may have a method for apportioning all bank holidays proportionately for part-time workers, which would also apply to this additional holiday. If a part-time worker does not usually work on a Monday and the contract does not deal with this situation, they are not necessarily entitled to an alternative day off instead. This bank holiday is for the very specific purpose of the State Funeral at the end of a national period of mourning. It may be arguable that the part-time worker is being treated less favourably by losing some additional holiday as compared to full-time workers. However, employers may well be able to justify not giving an alternative day on the basis that this is an extra day off to allow people to watch the funeral, which the individual can still do as they were not due to work in any event.

Can employees be required to work, and for what pay?

Some employees (such as those in the hospitality sector) may be expected to work on bank/public holidays. If the employer remains open on the day of the funeral, employees can be asked to work in accordance with their contract. There is no automatic right to higher pay for working on a bank holiday, and so their pay for doing so will also depend on the contract. Employees in hospitality may well be contractually entitled to a higher rate of pay for working on a bank holiday, which would include the day of the funeral. Employees who were due to be in work may want to request time off on this occasion, and this should be dealt with sensitively in line with your usual policies.

If an employee is required to work, should they have an alternative day off?

Again, this depends on the wording of the contract. If the contract says that employees are entitled to an alternative day off if they are required to work on a bank holiday, then this will apply for the 19 September bank holiday as well. There wouldn’t be any legal right to an alternative day off if the contract simply specifies a fixed number of annual holiday days. Employers could nevertheless choose to give employees a different day off, particularly if this provides an incentive for people to cover necessary shifts on the bank holiday.

Bank holiday closures

Many retailers and other businesses have already announced that they will be closing for the day of the funeral, including attractions that are open to the public such as cinemas and National Trust properties. If a business that would normally be open decides to close for the day, they should review the terms of employment contracts to see if their staff will be entitled to pay in this situation. It may not be necessary to pay employees if the employer uses a flexible shift system which can be changed on short notice.

Any Employment Tribunal (ET) hearings scheduled for the day have been cancelled. Hearings of one day or less are cancelled altogether, and longer hearings will have their time reduced by one day. The deadlines for filing employment tribunal claims will not be affected - but under rule 4(2) of the ET rules, the time limit for complying with any ET practice directions or orders (e.g. for disclosure) will effectively be extended to the next working day because the original deadline is a bank holiday.

All state schools will be closed on the day of the funeral, which may cause childcare problems for employees who are required to work that day. Where possible, employers should try to accommodate these employees by allowing them to take the day off or work from home (recognising that this may not be practical in some busy workplaces such as hospitality).

Personal responses and grief

It is to be expected that many individuals may feel upset by the Queen’s death. Others may feel as if something fundamental about the world has shifted, due to her long service and prominence in public life. The death of someone in the public eye can also remind us of our own more direct losses and bereavements, and this may be a challenging time for anyone who has experienced a recent bereavement or is expecting one soon.

Not everyone will be affected in the same way or feel the same way about the Queen’s death. Some people may be very distressed, while others may be less concerned, or take this as an opportunity to express anti-monarchist views. Employers may need to be sensitive to the range of feelings amongst their workforce over the coming days and ensure that people who may hold differing views are aware that they should treat their colleagues with respect.

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