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Countdown to Christmas: Key workplace relations questions answered

November 30, 2016

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Can you believe it? It seems that once again the year is quickly coming to an end and we are all left wondering, where did the time go?

With Christmas just around the corner HR Assured has taken the time to answer some of the key questions that our clients have been asking our workplace relations consultants through the Telephone Advisory Service. We have also taken the opportunity to reflect on the year that was from a workplace relations perspective and to discuss what you can do now to prepare yourself for 2017

      1.What days are public holidays over the Christmas period?

Public holidays are always an area of concern for our clients come this time of year. This year is particularly stressful given that both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day both fall on Sundays.

To simplify things, the following days have been declared public holidays in all Australian States and Territories:

Public HolidayDate
Christmas DaySunday 25th December 2016
Boxing DayMonday 26th December 2016
Additional Public HolidayTuesday 27th December 2016
New Year’s DaySunday 1st January 2017
Additional Public HolidayMonday 2nd January 2017
Australia DayThursday 26th January 2017

In addition to the above-listed dates, Saturday 24th December 2016 (Christmas Eve) and Saturday 31st December 2016 (New Year’s Eve) from 7pm to midnight are both declared public holidays in South Australia only.

It is important that you know which penalty rates apply for work performed on a day that is a declared a public holiday in accordance with the applicable Award or Enterprise Agreement. Check the applicable industrial instrument, or contact HR Assured, to see whether there is any provision for time off in lieu of payment of the penalty rates.

     2. Is your business enforcing a shut down?

Many businesses close during the quiet Christmas period with most Awards and Enterprise Agreements allowing employers to direct an employee to take a period of annual leave; subject to certain conditions.

It is important to remember, however, that an employee cannot be required to take paid annual leave on a day that is declared a public holiday. Rather the public holiday is automatically treated as a paid absence with the employee receiving their base rate of pay for their ordinary hours of work on that day.

     3. Are you hiring Christmas casuals?

Christmas can be an extremely busy time of the year for some businesses, particularly for those in the retail sector. This seasonal increase in demand places pressure on these businesses to hire additional staff at this time of year.

There is nothing wrong with hiring additional staff to meet demand. However, it is important to understand that even casual employees can bring an unfair dismissal claim. To minimise the risk you should have a written contract of employment for all employees, even Christmas casuals.

     4. How can I prepare my business for 2017?

Australia’s workplace relations system is complex and workplace laws are tightly regulated by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The 2015 / 2016 financial year saw the Fair Work Ombudsman recover a staggering $27.3 million for 11,158 workers. The 7-eleven wage scandal consistently made headlines, placing pressure on the FWO to launch a number of targeted campaigns in a bid to uncover dodgy operators and enforce compliance.

Disturbingly, the Fair Work Ombudsman displayed an increasing willingness to push the traditional boundaries of the accessorial liability provisions of the Fair Work Act. It is well established that any individual who is involved in a breach can be penalised up to $10,800 per breach. Last year we saw $684,820.00 in penalties awarded against individuals named as accessories. This included a number of company directors, a union assistant secretary and a human resource officer. In fact, over 94% of FWO prosecutions rope in an accessory.

Minimum wage rates, penalties and record keeping obligations continue to be key areas of risk for businesses. Can you afford to take the risk?

If you would like more information on any of the recommendations contained in this email and what they mean for your business please contact us on 1300 345 875 or email enquiries@hrassured.com.au.