Small-business employers urged to brace for public holiday rush

With Good Friday falling on 19 April this year, there are only a few business days between Easter and the Anzac Day public holiday, meaning a potential 10-day break for employees with only a couple of days of annual leave having to be used.

Turning minimal annual leave into substantial vacation time is a great way to rest, according to Senior Employment Relations Adviser at Employsure, James Houghton, but employers are well within their rights to insist that employees apply for annual leave with plenty of notice as rosters may need rearrangement.

Common employer mistakes

Many workers will be entitled to penalty rates over the Easter weekend, and this often causes confusion for small-business owners. According to Houghton, there are five common misconceptions businesses make about public holidays and running their business:

  1. “I’ll just tell my employees they need to work over Easter.”

“Don’t let your desire for an extra set of hands on a public holiday put you in a mess” Houghton warns. Public holidays form part of the National Employment Standards (NES) which protects an employee’s workplace right to reasonably refuse to work on a public holiday.

“Before you ask an employee to work a public holiday, always look at their contract of employment, any enterprise agreement that may apply to their employment or the applicable Modern Award,” Houghton says. “ And remember, an employee may have the right to refuse to work if they can establish reasonable grounds such as family responsibilities or a short notice period.”

  1. “It’s easier to offer employees a day off in lieu.”

“Public holiday penalty rates are notoriously expensive for small-business employers, so it’s hardly surprising that many try to strike a deal by offering employees a day off in lieu or swapping work days instead,” Houghton says.

Whether this puts you in breach of the Fair Work Act, depends on the wording of the relevant Modern Award or enterprise agreement. However, even if the Award or agreement allows for this, you cannot force an employee to agree to take a day in lieu instead of being remunerated for working the public holiday.

  1. “I pay employees above Award rates, so I’m already covered for penalty rates.”

This is a misconception that comes up frequently.

“Paying above Award rate is great, but it doesn’t automatically exempt you from paying penalty rates,” Houghton explains. When considering whether penalty rates are applicable you need to ensure that an offsetting provision is in place and that the above award component is sufficient to ensure the employee is no worse off.

  1. “If my employees don’t work on the public holiday, I don’t have to pay them.”

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 at least their base rate of pay for the ordinary hours they would have worked. However, casual employees don’t get paid for public holidays, unless they work on the actual y.

  1. “My employee is on paid leave overlapping Easter, so I can deduct the public holiday days from their annual leave balance.”

Many employees plan to take time off to spend with family and friends over Easter. But, if an employee is on annual leave or personal leave when a public holiday falls, then the day is treated as a public holiday –not as a paid leave day.

Houghton explains that the employee should be paid at least their base rate of pay for the day, and the day shouldn’t be taken off their annual leave or personal leave balance.

”Ensure you check for the provisions of Awards or agreements which apply to your business and employees, along with contracts of employment for any terms relevant to a public holiday,” Houghton says. “If you are unsure, best to ask for professional workplace relations advice.”