Can I Force My Employees to Work a Public Holiday?

Many industries require employees to work public holidays. For example, retail workers for boxing day sales or hospitality workers for Christmas or New Year’s Eve parties.

It is essential that employer’s your employees’ rights around public holidays and your obligations as an employer.

First, confirm what award or enterprise agreement applies to the employee.

For example, the General Retail Industry Award will most likely cover retail workers, and the Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2010 or Restaurant Industry Award 2010 will most likely cover hospitality workers.

Once you have confirmed the employee’s status, you should also know the different requirements for full-time, part-time, and casual employees. Under awards, there are penalty rates for working public holidays that you will be required to pay if your employees work these days. Some awards may include flexibility such as using days in lieu or other options instead of payment for the public holiday worked.

If your employees are award free, then the process for this may be set out in the relevant employment agreement. For casual employees, they will only be paid the penalty rates if they work that particular day.

Can my Employee Refuse to Work a Public Holiday?

An employee has the right to be absent from work on a public holiday. However, as an employer, you may request that the employee does work the public holiday. The employee may refuse the request if the request is unreasonable or if the refusal is reasonable.

The factors for determining reasonableness include:

  • the nature of the work and the employee’s status (e.g. full-time, part-time, casual);
  • the personal situation of the employee;
  • how much notice the employee received;
  • whether you expected your employee to work a public holiday; and
  • other relevant matters.

Tim Hayter, Principal, Mid West Lawyers
This information is general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought for your particular circumstances.