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Can employees swap out Public Holidays?

Creating a culturally diverse and inclusive workplace.


Written by Harshini Elliott, Senior HR Partner


Australia continues to become a more culturally diverse country. As a result, employers need to be aware that when it comes to Public Holidays, not all employees celebrate holidays such as Easter and Christmas and not everyone wants a day off for the Queen’s Birthday.


To achieve a culturally diverse and inclusive workplace, employers must recognise that flexibility and inclusivity go hand in hand. Understanding this from a leadership point of view and then developing policies to accommodate and support this are crucial in achieving diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.


So, if we look at public holidays, how can organisations provide better leave options for public holidays for all employees? First of all, you will need to develop a policy around this to ensure the organisations position is clear to all employees.


However, there are things you need to consider when implementing a policy which supports this.


Is the employee covered by an award or legislative instrument? Most awards have significant wage penalties attached to working public holidays, so it is crucial to consider any financial impact on the organisation and employee.


In the absence of an award, you will need to refer to your organisational policy or the Fair Work Act to determine if the request is reasonable.


Also keep in mind that you don't inadvertently discriminate against individual or groups of employees.


Some general principles to consider when developing your policy are:

  • Can the business operationally support this? How will this request be tracked? How will the information be shared with payroll? What document do you need in place for this to work? This information needs to be stipulated in the policy.

  • Is there meaningful work for the employee to do? Assuming most people won’t be working on the public holiday, does the employee need supervision while working the public holiday? Is there enough work for them to do that is meaningful? Guidelines around what work will be performed on these days could be added into the policy.

  • Has the employee provided sufficient notice? The policy will need to stipulate the notice period to work/swap a public holiday, so the organisation has the time to prepare for this. Eg, if supervision is required

  • Is your policy equitable and fair for all employees? Ensure your policy does not adversely affect individuals or groups of employees and that all employees have the option to participate in swapping out Public Holidays.

If the above points can be satisfied then allowing an employee who does not want to celebrate Australia Day (for example), and instead wants to choose a more culturally significant day it is a great way to show employees your support when it comes to diversity and inclusivity.


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