Susan and Andrew’s article was published in HRM Guide on 24 February 2022, and can be found here.
To much fanfare, Deloitte recently introduced a “flexible public holiday’’ policy. From now on, employees (and workers) will be permitted to work on UK bank holidays such as Christmas and Easter and take time off instead on dates “most meaningful for them”.
Whilst a policy like this is unusual in a professional services company, it is not unknown in the wider economy. Employees in hospitality routinely work over Christmas and employees in retail are usually expected to work on Boxing Day. Ultimately, companies decide whether to allow (or require) employees to take leave on UK public holidays for business reasons as for any other reason.
Contrary to what many believe, there is no automatic right to time off on UK public holidays. Every UK worker must be given at least five weeks of holiday per year, but this leave does not have to be taken on the 8 UK public holidays (or 9 this year owing to the Jubilee). Employers have discretion to require staff to take (or cancel) holiday on certain days by giving notice that is twice the length of the proposed holiday. For example, an employer can force an employee to take 5 days holiday if that employee is told at least 10 calendar days in advance. This ability is most commonly used to allow office shutdowns during UK public holidays (particularly around Christmas).
Some employees will have a contractual right to take time off for public holidays, but they will be in a minority. Even when contracts express holiday as “[number] days plus bank holidays”, most employers reserve the right to require their employees to work on public holidays if necessary (albeit with the obligation to provide an extra day’s holiday in lieu of the one that was lost).
Accountants and professional service companies often have office shutdowns during UK public holidays, and this makes commercial sense. For UK focused companies, public holidays tend to be quiet periods. Many employers will therefore want their staff to take time off at Christmas and Easter because there may not be enough work for them to do, as colleagues and clients are on holidays themselves. Similarly, employees often prefer to take leave during public holidays as these are less likely to be cancelled or disrupted due to work pressures.
However, Deloitte is a global company, and it almost certainly has UK staff who deal with parts of the world that do not share UK public holidays. A client in Asia may want and expect a response at Christmas and Easter and so these public holidays may not be the quiet periods that may otherwise be the case for other companies. It makes commercial sense to respond to clients’ needs and we expect that there are a number of people in Deloitte who already work on UK public holidays if they primarily deal with international clients.
Deloitte has marketed their policy as encouraging diversity and inclusion. Office shutdowns (when holiday is compulsory) most commonly occur during Christmas and Easter. Both of these are traditional Christian holidays, and it is entirely understandable that employees of other faiths (or none) may prefer to use their annual leave for the holidays or festivals that matter most to them.
However, in our view both Easter and (especially) Christmas have moved beyond being purely Christian holidays and it appears that there is not widespread opposition to Christmas or Easter shutdowns among non-Christian workers. Even if an employee has to take all 8 English public holidays (9 in Scotland and 10 in Northern Ireland) as annual leave, that employee will have several weeks of remaining holiday for the occasions that matter most to them. In any event, office shutdowns over UK holidays are unlikely to be discriminatory as long as there is a justifiable business case for doing so.
Deloitte’s new holiday policy may well improve diversity and inclusion, however, we expect that UK public holidays have less effect on an international company than a purely UK focused business. Deloitte is probably motivated by commercial as well as altruistic motivations.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Deloitte offer its staff genuine flexibility to take holiday on days “most meaningful for them” or if it will lead to increasing pressure on employees to work on public holidays when they may have previously enjoyed time off. We would assume that pressuring employees to work on Christmas Day would cause more opposition than requiring employees to take it as holiday. Additionally, in terms of diversity and inclusion, preventing an employee from taking time off on a day that matters to them, due to their faith, is likely to be higher risk than office shutdowns over the UK public holidays.