Employers Brace For 10-Day Public Holiday And Easter Break

Published April 04, 2019 (last updated July 20, 2020) -

Thanks to the schedule of 2019 public holidays Senior Employment Relations Adviser from Employsure, James Houghton says, “2019 may be the year working Australians will get smarter at using their annual leave, thanks to the number of public holidays that fall close together between Easter and Anzac Day.”

Since Good Friday is on April 19 this year, there are only a few business days between Easter and the Anzac Day public holiday, meaning a potential 10-day break 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.

“Chances are many employees will be taking advantage of the public holidays and bolting-on annual leave to maximise time away from work.”

While many workers rush to nab the time off, Houghton says employers are well within their rights to “Ask employees to follow a process of applying for annual leave, with plenty of notice – as rosters may need rearrangement. Remind your employees to refer to the annual leave policy in your business, because it might be based on a first come, first serve basis.”

Common Employer Mistakes

As usual, Easter falls over the weekend, meaning there will be plenty of workers entitled to penalty rates. No matter what industry you are in, and regardless if your business is open or closed over Easter, there are a number of things you will need to consider and common mistakes to avoid for the upcoming Easter long weekend; 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. It’s best practice to put the request in writing outlining the hours of work and other conditions such as the rate of pay and penalty rates if applicable.”

“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.”

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.”

 Think you don’t need to bother paying staff penalty rates since they are already earning well over the Award rate? Guess again says Houghton, who adds that 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.” 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. Penalty rates are usually spelled out in Awards and agreements, but be warned says Houghton, “Penalty rates in some industries changed in 2018; so be sure to check every time.”

  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 day. Houghton further adds: “you cannot alter an employee’s roster to avoid a public holiday.”

  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.

This means, “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” according to Houghton.

“This Easter, 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. If you are unsure, best to ask for professional workplace relations advice.”

Easter 2019 Dates

Friday 19 April                                 Good Friday                      National

Saturday 20 April                            Easter Saturday                National (except Tas & WA)

Sunday 21 April                              Easter Sunday                  ACT, NSW, Qld & Vic

Monday 22 April                              Easter Monday                 National

Tuesday 23 April                             Easter Tuesday                Tas

Thursday 25 April                          Anzac Day                         National

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