Public holiday pay for Australia Day 2021

Principal Consultant - Concept HR Services

With Australia Day approaching, many employers will have questions around public holiday rates and working arrangements. In this article I answer commonly asked questions about public holidays.

There are National, State, Territory and Regional public holidays. Employers should be aware of all public holidays applicable to their business and employees. Public holidays are generally full days but some are part days.

Plan ahead

Successful business owners and managers plan ahead and know which public holidays are coming up for the year.
They plan when their business will or will not trade, their staffing requirements and projected wage costs.
They also know that employees like to take advantage of public holidays by requesting leave to get long weekends or extended holidays, which could have an impact on staffing levels.
Planning ahead also helps in providing sufficient notice to employees if they are required to work on a public holiday.

Know the legislation that applies to your employees

Specific entitlements and rules that apply to your employees are determined by the National Employment Standards (NES), any applicable award or enterprise agreement. You will need to be across the detail and apply these minimum terms and conditions.

Can an employee refuse to work on a public holiday?

Employees don’t have to work on a public holiday, but an employer can ask an employee to work on a public holiday, if the request is reasonable.

An employee may refuse a request to work if they have reasonable grounds.

Take the following into account when deciding if a request is reasonable:

  • the nature of the employer’s workplace (including its operational requirements) and the nature of the work performed by the employee
  • the employee’s personal circumstances, including family responsibilities
  • whether the employee could reasonably expect that the employer might request them to work on the public holiday
  • whether the employee is entitled to receive overtime payments, penalty rates, additional remuneration or other compensation that reflects an expectation of work on the public holiday
  • the type of employment (e.g. full-time, part-time, casual or shiftwork)
  • the amount of notice in advance of the public holiday given by the employer when making the request
  • the amount of notice in advance of the public holiday given by the employee in refusing the request
  • any other relevant matter

Can a public holiday be substituted for another day?

If, under the law of a State or Territory, a public holiday is substituted for another day, then the substituted day or part-day is the public holiday.
An award or agreement may include provisions for an employer and an employee to agree to substitute a public holiday for another day or part-day. This also applies to award/agreement-free employees.
Where such an agreement is reached, the original public holiday effectively becomes an ordinary working day, and the substituted day becomes a public holiday.

What payment is required if an employee does not work on a public holiday?

If an employee is absent from work on a public holiday, the employer must pay the employee (other than a casual employee) the base rate of pay for the employee’s ordinary hours of work on that day or part-day. The base rate of pay to be paid excludes incentive-based payments and bonuses, loadings, monetary allowances, overtime or penalty rates, or any other separately identifiable amounts.
An employee is not entitled to payment if they do not have ordinary hours of work on the public holiday.
An employee’s roster can’t be changed to deliberately avoid this payment.
An award, enterprise agreement or other registered agreement can set out other rules and entitlements when not working on a public holiday.

Working on public holidays

Employees get paid at least their base pay rate for all hours worked on public holidays.

Awards, enterprise agreements and other registered agreements can provide entitlements for working public holidays, including:

  • extra pay (eg. public holiday rates)
  • an extra day off or extra annual leave
  • minimum shift lengths on public holidays
  • agreeing to substitute a public holiday for another day

Public holidays during leave

If a public holiday falls when an employee is on leave, their entitlement to the public holiday depends on whether they are taking paid leave or unpaid leave. During a period of paid leave (eg. annual leave or sick leave), the employee has to be paid for the public holiday and it will not be counted as leave. An employee isn’t required to be paid for any public holiday that falls during a time when the employee is on unpaid leave.

In summary

  • Plan ahead
  • Communicate early
  • Know the legislation that applies to your employees

If you need help with employee entitlements please email or call 0420 590 137 for a no-obligation discovery call to see how we can help.

Tracy Ford

Principal Consultant - Concept HR Services

We work with small and medium sized businesses to provide personalised, and commercially viable, HR solutions to meet your specific business needs.
Our solutions, support and advice is tailored to your business and people needs rather than providing "off-the-shelf" products. We aim to build strong, long lasting customer relationships with local business owners and their teams.
Tracy has 25+ years HR generalist experience working in both the Corporate and SME sectors.

Concept HR Services