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For some businesses, the Christmas/New Year period is one of the busiest times of the year. Here is some useful information to help you manage your employees if you’re staying open through the holidays.

Can I ask an employee to work on a public holiday?

Yes, you can ask a staff member to work on a public holiday. However, your request must be ‘reasonable’.

When deciding whether the request is ‘reasonable,’ you should consider:

– the nature of the workplace
– the employee’s personal circumstances (eg. family responsibilities)
– whether the employee will get more pay (eg. penalty rates)
– the needs of the workplace
– the type of work the employee does
– whether the employee’s salary includes work on a public holiday
– whether the employee is full-time, part-time, casual or a shift worker
– how much advance notice the employee is being given, and
– the amount of notice the employee gives that they refuse to work.

Can an employee refuse my request?

Yes, employees can refuse to work on a public holiday if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to support their refusal.

Whether a refusal is ‘reasonable‘ will depend on the employee’s specific circumstances and the needs of the business, as outlined above.

What are employees entitled to when working public holidays?

Any applicable Modern Awards or Enterprise Agreements will explain what employees must be paid when they work on a public holiday.

Most employees are entitled to ‘penalty rates‘ for working on a public holiday. However, there are some Modern Awards and Enterprise Agreements which allow employees to:

– substitute the public holiday for a different day
– have an additional day added to their annual leave balance, or
– receive ‘time off in lieu’ (TOIL).

What should I pay staff who aren’t working on a public holiday?

Full-time and part-time employees who normally work on the day a public holiday falls are entitled to take the day off and be paid their ‘base rate‘ for the ordinary hours they would usually have worked.

Casual employees don’t get paid for public holidays unless they work on the actual day.

What happens if an employee is on paid leave when a public holiday falls?

If an employee is on annual leave or personal/carer’s leave when a public holiday falls, the day is treated as a public holiday and not as a paid leave day.

This means the employee should be paid at least their base rate of pay for the day, and the day shouldn’t be deducted from their annual leave or personal leave balance.

What if an employee is sick before or after a public holiday?

If one of your employees takes paid personal/carer’s leave either side of a public holiday, they should still be paid for the public holiday if it’s a day they would normally work.

Remember that you are always entitled to ask an employee to provide evidence – such as a medical certificates or statutory declaration – whenever they take personal/carer’s leave. This applies even if the employee is only away for one day.

Need help?

Ask the team of HR experts at Better HR. By using the HR Advice Online Service or HR Advice Hotline Service.