The holiday season is a time for joy, celebration, and spending quality time with loved ones. Many businesses choose to close down over Christmas to allow their employees to enjoy this special time. However, it's essential for employers to be aware of their obligations and responsibilities when implementing a Christmas shutdown. In this article, we will explore the various aspects of employer obligations during the holiday season closure, ensuring that both employers and employees have a smooth and stress-free holiday break.
Directing Employees to take Leave
Directing employees to take leave during a shutdown period such as Christmas and New Year is not always straight forward. Some Modern Awards and Agreements do not allow you to give direction.
For example, the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award states employees cannot be directed to take annual leave during a shutdown, only by mutual agreement.
Whereas the Clerks Private Sector Award states: Employees can be required to take a period of paid annual leave during a shutdown. If an employee doesn’t have enough paid annual leave to cover all of the shutdown, the employee and employer can agree to other options for the days not covered such as using:
other paid time such as time off in lieu
annual leave in advance
leave without pay.
Giving Adequate Notice
One of the most crucial aspects of closing over Christmas is providing employees with sufficient notice. Depending on the relevant industry or occupational Modern Award or Agreement, this notice period can vary. Generally, it's recommended to inform employees in writing at least four weeks in advance to allow them time to plan accordingly.
Most Awards state 28 days’ notice in writing, however we strongly recommend referring to the relevant clause in the Award to ensure you provide sufficient notice.
For example, the Building and Construction General On-site Award states: All affected employees must be given at least 2 months’ written notice of the shutdown period.
Holiday Pay and Leave Entitlements
During the Christmas shutdown, employees may have questions about their holiday pay and leave entitlements. Employers must adhere to employment laws regarding paid leave during this period. This includes explaining whether employees will be paid for public holidays, how accrued leave balances will be handled, and any special arrangements for temporary or part-time workers. Clearly communicating these details helps prevent confusion and disputes.
A few things to consider are:
Where a public holiday falls on a full-time or part-time employee’s standard workday, the employee will be paid for the public holiday.
Paid leave taken over the shutdown period, including public holidays, the employee will still accrue leave, unless they’re taking leave without pay.
Casual employees are not entitled to paid leave and will need sufficient notice to ensure they can financially plan for the shutdown period.
Temporary Closure Policies
Developing clear policies and procedures for the Christmas shutdown can help streamline the process and ensure consistency. These policies should address matters such as the shutdown duration, emergency contact information, security measures, and expectations regarding remote work, if applicable. Make sure all employees are aware of these policies and have access to them well in advance of the closure.
Communication and Engagement
Effective communication is essential to address employee concerns and maintain morale during the holiday shutdown. Hold a staff meeting or send out a company-wide email to inform employees about the closure and its details. Encourage open lines of communication, so employees feel comfortable reaching out with any questions or concerns. Additionally, consider organising a festive event or party before the shutdown to boost team morale and celebrate the holiday season together.
Health and Safety
Even during a shutdown, employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees. Ensure that the workplace remains safe during the closure by conducting necessary maintenance and security checks. Clearly communicate any safety measures or procedures that employees should follow if they need to access the premises during the shutdown.
Closing over Christmas can be a wonderful way for businesses to allow their employees to enjoy the holiday season, but it comes with specific employer obligations. By giving adequate notice, addressing holiday pay and leave entitlements, managing annual leave requests, implementing temporary closure policies, maintaining open communication, and ensuring health and safety, employers can create a smooth and stress-free Christmas shutdown. This not only supports employee well-being but also fosters a positive work environment that can lead to increased productivity and loyalty when the business reopens in the new year.
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