Have you got HR covered over the upcoming holiday season?

Posted on 9/12/2020

Original Post 19/11/2019, Amended 09/12/2020

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The Christmas break can be a tricky time for employers and HR managers managing leave and staffing levels. With a few key tips from our experts, you can ensure that your business continues to run smoothly during the festive season.

As most of us gear up for a well-deserved break from work to rest and spend time with family and enjoy plenty of good food, for those of us responsible for managing staffing levels and employees, it can also be a complex and costly period.

Whether you’re shutting down over the break, running a skeleton crew or even if it’s the busiest time of year for your business, proper forecasting of your staffing levels to meet your operational needs is critical to ensuring that you can enjoy some time to relax over the break.

With that in mind, here’s a few key things to remember in the lead up to the holiday break.


Christmas shutdown

If you’re shutting down operations over the festive season or through January next year, you will need to give your employees notice under their respective Award or Enterprise Agreement. Commonly, this is about four weeks; however, some Awards and Agreements do require more and will require you to follow a set process of notification, so it’s best to double check now.

It’s also important to note that if the applicable Award or Agreement does not cover shutdowns over the holiday season, you can’t make employees take paid or unpaid leave. That being said, you can negotiate with your team and reach an agreement – particularly if it’s common practice in your industry or business.


What if an employee doesn’t have enough paid leave?

In this case, over the shutdown period, an employee can use whatever paid leave they have accrued, and the rest can be taken as unpaid leave, as long as it has been approved.


You can direct an employee to use excessive leave

In some cases, you can direct employees to utilise excessive accrued leave entitlements, including annual leave, rostered days off (RDOs) or excessive amounts of Long Service Leave. There are rules around such directions, and you will need to check the relevant policy or legislation before directing employees to take excessive leave; however, it could be useful if some employees are carrying a lot of leave entitlements without any plan of using it.


What if you can’t approve everyone’s leave requests?

Many businesses still run over the holiday period and in some industries, like hospitality, it can be the busiest time of the year. As such, knowing your operational requirements in advance is key to ensuring you can adapt staff levels appropriately. Also consider what staffing levels the public holidays or the business days between require, and if you require employees with specific skills to work over the period.


Part-day Public Holidays

Yes, these are a thing! In South Australia, 7pm till 12 midnight on Christmas Eve (24th) and New Year’s Eve (31st) are deemed public holidays and therefore public holiday penalty rates apply for work performed by employees covered by an Award or potentially an Enterprise Agreement. So, it’s important to plan your rosters around this if you are legally able to.


Employees on Stand Down

For employees who are on stand down under the Jobkeeper enabling provisions as a result of COVID19, the Christmas/ New Year period are paid  public holidays that they would have ordinarily worked had it not been for the stand down.

There is no legal entitlement for an employee to be paid annual leave during a true stand down. It is at the discretion of the employer if they are willing and able to allow employees to access accrued annual leave entitlements during a stand down. It is important that any agreement to do so should be recorded in writing.

Monitor any reviews or the conclusion of the stand down period that occurs over the Christmas shut down period for your business and address these before the shutdown.

Other questions that relate to stand downs and COVID19 can be found at Perks COVID19 Resource Hub.


Expected behavior at work functions

Many of us will get to enjoy workplace festivities in the lead up to the Christmas holiday period. While these are fantastic events, it’s important to monitor behavior at workplace Christmas parties or work endorsed activities. Ensure employees are clear of what respectful behaviour looks like and are encouraged to drink responsibly. Outlining these expectations at the commencement of or prior to festivities is ideal. Have some or all managers keeping a finger on the pulse in case things get out of hand and they can step in and intervene if necessary.

For more information please contact Cecilia White – Director, Perks People Solutions.

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