Christmas shutdown

Christmas shutdowns…two steps to avoiding the ‘naughty list’

You’ve had a great 2018 and the Christmas decorations seem to have been in the shops…well… just a tad early this year.

Like organising whose house the family Christmas lunch will be at, you know this means it’s time for you to start planning the Christmas / New Year shut down for your business. Or perhaps you need to plan working through for your clients (e.g. like many in the hospitality industry for example)?

Either way, this crazy time of year brings with it some obligations you might not be familiar with, especially as the laws covering shutdown periods and public holidays will sometimes vary significantly.

Here are two simple steps to keep you on track:

Step 1: Plan for the shutdown

The following is based on the National System. For employers in WA, they can follow much the same principles to ensure fairness. The key is to plan around the relevant information and facts.

Check your award or agreement

An employer’s right to direct an employee to take annual leave will be governed under an award or agreement. Where this is not present (e.g. award­ free employees), check what the employment contract and policies direct. For award­ free WA system employers, this can also rely on ‘custom and practice’ as to what happens over the Christmas/New Year period.

Notify employees

Common to most scenarios is a requirement for an employer to notify the workforce that the business is shutting down for a period of time. Many modern awards require 4 weeks’ notice but it is best to check as some awards require longer than this.

Typical information to give your employees will include:

  1. The length of the shutdown period
  2. Reason for the shutdown (e.g. custom and practice, clients not available during this period etc)
  3. Treatment of paid annual leave and public holidays and how it is paid

Step 2: And for those businesses who don’t shutdown?

Check your award or agreement

As you will have guessed, your award, agreement or contract/policies will be the starting point for how you handle this requirement. The award particularly may require employees to work public holidays but it will also detail public holiday pay rates and how employees are to be paid and whether this changes based on their type of employment (e.g. full time versus casual employees).

What about employees who refuse to work?

The legislation offers some protections for employees as they can refuse an unreasonable request from an employer to work a public holiday even when the award says otherwise. If you have any questions surfacing as you read this, it’s a good sign to seek some help around your industry, award and what is ‘reasonable’ before issuing any shutdown notices.

The takeaways:

Plan. Knowing the requirements under the award or agreement and ensuring that your requests are reasonable are key to this time of year. It can often just be failing to follow a simple ‘rule’ where an employer comes unstuck.

Communicate. Most of the requirements will include having to communicate the shutdown or public holiday period to employees.

Think. Do not summarily terminate an employee who refuses to work / take leave without seeking advice. As the saying goes…act in haste, repent at leisure!

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