Small business braces for flurry of public holidays

With five public holidays across five states and territories on our doorstep, small business employers must get familiar with their public holiday obligations.

Victoria are next with the controversial AFL Grand Final holiday tomorrow, followed by Labour Day in New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, and South Australia on 2 October and the Queen’s Birthday on the same date in Queensland. 25 September was Family and Community Day in Australian Capital Territory and Queen’s Birthday day in Western Australia.

According Andrew Spiteri, a Senior Employment Relations Adviser at Employsure, there are so many public holidays this time of the year, which places a lot of stress on small-business owners.

“Customers expect businesses to operate across public holidays, meaning employers are requesting their employees work on a public holiday, and employers are entitled to ask – provided the request is reasonable.” That is, there needs to be a legitimate reason for them to be working on the public holiday. In the same way, employees can only refuse the request if the request is unreasonable.

“Of course, the type of business you run has a big influence. For example, hairdressing salons are often booming on Melbourne Cup Day. For employers in the retail industry especially, public holidays mean extended trading hours and larger workloads for staff; meaning small businesses really feel the impact. On the other hand, an accountant may use the public holiday as down time and an opportunity to close.”

In the case that businesses do open on a public holiday Spiteri says it’s a common pain point.

“Our Advice line booms around this time of the year with employers trying to understand public holiday entitlements.”

Full-time and part-time employees who normally would have worked on the day that a public holiday falls are entitled to have a day off and be paid their base pay rate. Casual employees are entitled to take the day off but they are not entitled to be paid on that day.

Spiteri advises employers to check employee Awards or Agreements that will set out their entitlements when they work a public holiday.

“If an employee is covered by an Award or Agreement, and they work on a public holiday, they may be entitled to extra pay called a penalty rate, or a different day off to substitute the public holiday,” Spiteri says.

“Ensure you check the provisions of the Awards or Agreements which apply to your business and employees, along with their contracts of employment for any terms relevant to a public holiday.”

Spiteri advises employers to keep the following three points keep in mind for public holiday periods:

  • Just because some employees are entitled to be absent on public holidays, does not mean that they are not entitled to pay. No matter which public holiday it is, you must pay employees for their usual hours of work on that day – except for casuals.
  • However, if the public holiday falls on a day that the employee would not ordinarily have worked, then they are not entitled to be paid for this day.
  • Check employee Award or Agreements which will likely have a clause around pay rates on public holidays.

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