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5 Easter sins to avoid

Even if you pay employees above the award rate it’s easy to get egg on your face over Easter if you’re not fully aware of your workplace obligations.
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5 Easter sins to avoid

5 Easter sins to avoid

6 March 2017

As the Easter long weekend approaches, many small business owners will begin pondering the logistics of what having those two back-to-back public holidays will entail. Should you insist staff work and promise them a day off in lieu instead? Could you roster on non-Christian staff to tide you over?

Before you go any further down that road, Joe Murphy, Director of Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors recommends you take step back to consider the mistakes others have made – and how making a similar decision could affect your 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 Easter Sunday put you in a legal pickle; 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. 

“An employer is actually not in fact entitled to direct employees to work on public holidays,” says Murphy, adding that the specifics of such a request will depend on the industrial instruments that govern your employee’s employment arrangements. 

“Before you ask, always look at their contract of employment, the enterprise agreement that applies to their employment or the underlying award if there is no enterprise agreement in place.” 
And remember, an employee has every right to refuse to work if they have reasonable grounds (such as family responsibilities or short notice period) to do so.

2.    “it’s easier to offer a day off in lieu”

Public holiday penalty rates are notoriously expensive for small business owners, so it’s hardly surprising that many try to strike a deal by offering employees a day off in lieu or taking a replacement day instead. 
Whether this puts you in breach depends entirely on how such an agreement is worded in their award or enterprise agreement, says Murphy. 

“If the agreement or award includes provisions for an employer and employee to agree to substitute these days then that’s okay,” he says. “But again, it must be noted that an employer cannot force their employee to agree to take a day instead of being remunerated for working.” 

3.    “I pay ’above award’ pay rates so I’m already covered for penalty rates”

Think you don’t need to bother with paying staff penalty rates since they’re already earning well over the award rate? Guess again, says Murphy, who adds that this is one that comes up time and time again. 
“Paying an above award rate is great, but it doesn’t give you a ‘get out of gaol free card’ when it comes to what’s expected of you come a public holiday,” he says. 

Again, penalty rates payable are usually spelled out in awards and agreements, but be warned that any claims of underpayment can quickly make it to the desk of the Fair Work Ombudsman which may result in a compliance notice being sent to you to rectify your error. 

4.    “If an employee turns up under the influence, I’ll deal with it on the spot” 

Easter isn’t quite as problematic as Christmas when it comes to issues with workplace behaviour, but Murphy recommends giving your company’s Drug and Alcohol policy a once-over and then both posting it up within your work space and emailing it to employees. 

“The hospitality industry is particularly at risk over the Easter long weekend – particularly if you’ve got a casual workforce full of younger staff coming in after a big night out which can lead to unsafe workplace practices,” he says. 

“Employees need to be reminded that they need to present at work in a fit state so that their health and safety – as well as that of everyone around them – can be ensured.”  

Your drug and alcohol policy is your opportunity to outline what you expectations are in relations to employees behaviour and what the outcome will be if they don’t meet those expectations, including disciplinary action.

5.    “I’ll ask my non-Christian staff to work over Easter”

Thinking about rostering on staff who “don’t care about working on a Christian holiday”? No, no, and no, according to Murphy who says such a move is discriminatory and can leave you wide open for potential problems. 

“Religious holidays can be a delicate issue so regardless of whether you yourself are religious or not, remember who your customer base is when you’re advertising or when you’re talking to staff about leave so that no one comes away feeling alienated or upset,” he says. 
Whether it’s Easter or not, it’s clear that sometimes it’s not about compliance or enterprise agreements, but about plain old common sense. 

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