How to avoid HR Issues during the Festive Season

A different kind of Christmas Party during COVID!

Each year we like to send out a reminder to employers of your obligations when it comes to those end of year celebrations.

CLICK HERE to read ‘How to Avoid Christmas Party Incidents!’

This information certainly still applies, in fact this year you have additional responsibilities, including making sure that your party is held in a COVID safe manner.

What does this mean? Essentially, you need to continue to abide by the latest COVID safe advice from the NSW Government. Updated information can be found HERE.

If you have a large workforce and are planning a gathering, you might have to consider breaking your team up into smaller groups to satisfy social distancing requirements.

Or get creative and host a virtual gathering with some added flare, such as a guided Christmas cooking class with all ingredients delivered, virtual wine tasting or traditional trivia. You may even consider ways in which you can take your event outdoors where more people are allowed to gather.

We have all had to adapt to new ways of thinking this year. Including those ever important social events!  

Annual Leave Requests

With the Christmas–New Year period fast approaching, you may notice an increased number of annual leave requests waiting for your approval. For those businesses that shut down over this period, approving annual leave is usually a joyous task. However, for smaller businesses continuing to trade during this period, it can be somewhat of a difficult juggling act to ensure you have enough employees on board to meet your customers’ needs while also ensuring employees receive a well-deserved break.

When reviewing annual leave applications, it is important to remember that you cannot unreasonably refuse to authorise an employee’s request to take annual leave. If you need assistance with understanding the rules surrounding ‘reasonableness,’ please do not hesitate to make contact with our HR team.

Public Holidays

In NSW the gazetted public holidays for the holiday season are:

  • Christmas Day Friday 25 December
  • Boxing Day Saturday 26 December
  • Additional Day Monday 28 December 2020
  • New Year’s Day Friday 1 January 2021
  • Australia Day Tuesday 26 January 2021

Can employees refuse to work on Public Holidays?

Employers can request that employees work on a public holiday if the request is reasonable. Likewise, an employee can refuse to work on a public holiday if the employer’s request is not reasonable. In determining whether the employer’s request is reasonable, under the Fair Work Act a broad range of factors are taken into account.  These include:

  • The nature of the employer’s workplace and the nature of the employee’s work
  • The employee’s personal circumstances
  • Whether the employee could reasonably expect the employer might request work on the public holiday
  • Whether the employee is entitled to receive overtime or other penalty payments that reflects the expectation to work public holidays
  • The type of employment of the employee (eg whether full-time, part-time, casual or shift work)
  • The amount of notice in advance of the public holiday given by the employer to the employee
  • The amount of notice given by the employee when refusing a request to work on a public holiday.

Payment for Public Holidays

A permanent employee who is absent from work on a public holiday is entitled to be paid their usual pay for his or her ordinary hours that would have been worked, even if they reasonably refused to work that day. Payment is at the employee’s base rate of pay (which excludes bonuses, loadings, allowances, overtime or penalty rates). Casual employees who refuse to work on a public holiday are not entitled to payment.

For Award covered employees or employees covered by enterprise agreements, it is important to check the penalty rates which apply on public holidays. Where a public holiday falls on a weekend, as it does on Boxing Day this year, there may be an entitlement to either the greater of the applicable penalty rates between the public holiday and the weekend penalty rates or both penalty rates. It is therefore important to check the Award or enterprise agreement carefully to ensure you pay your employees correctly.

Proposed changes to Employment Laws

Also, very topical in the lead up to Christmas this year is the Government’s significant proposed changes to employment laws in Australia. These include:

  • The way casuals are defined and treated
  • Changes to underpayment of wages, compliance and enforcement measures
  • Changes to the way Enterprise Agreements are made and approved
  • Simplification of Modern Awards

On 9 December 2020, the Federal Government introduced into Federal Parliament the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 which set out several reforms to the Fair Work Act 2009 to address some long-standing issues in these areas.

Our HR experts are experienced in interpreting these reforms and are monitoring the progress of the Bill closely. It seems likely that there will be amendments negotiated in coming weeks and we will provide you with further detail and explanation once the legislation has passed. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly at [email protected].