Australia Day and public holiday confusion – what you need to know about hours and pay

This Sunday January 26 is Australia Day, meaning that for the majority of Australians, Monday January 27is a public holiday.

It’s one of a solid number of national public holidays scheduled for 2014 – with Good Friday on April 18, Easter Saturday on April 19, Easter Monday on April 21, Anzac Day on April 25, Queen’s Birthday on June 9 (this date is to be confirmed in Western Australia), Christmas Day on December 25 and Boxing Day on December 26.

In addition, each state has its own public holidays, such as Victoria’s Melbourne Cup Day, and all the dates can be checked on the Fair Work Australia website.

The changing dates can lead to confusion for small businesses, particularly if they have locations in different states. The issue can get complex when public holidays fall on a weekend and a weekday off is allocated instead. In some instances, there are rules on whether a business can legally open on a public holiday, and if so there are generally restrictions on hours.

Rules on restricted hours vary from state to state. An example in Victoria, outlined by Business Victoria, is that restricted trading days for the retail sector include Christmas Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day until 1pm. On these days only exempt shops can open, which must have fewer than 20 employees in the store on the day, and the overall business must have no more than 100 staff.

In Victoria, chemists, petrol stations, restaurants and cafes are among businesses that could be exempt, so it is worth checking the rules for each state. 

When it comes to staff pay, according to Fair Work, when a public holiday falls on a day an employee normally works, full- and part-time employees are entitled to have the day off and be paid at their base rate of pay, not including any incentive-based payment or penalty rates.

In some businesses, for reasonable circumstances, an employer can ask an employee to work on a public holiday. In these cases the employee is entitled to their base pay, and possibly a penalty rate for the hours they work depending on the award their industry falls under, or employee agreement.

In some instances they could receive an additional day added to their annual leave instead.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James told SmartCompany that she encourages all small business operators to check the pay rates and entitlements that apply to their staff on the Australia Day public holiday, and for upcoming public holidays.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman’s website has information about rates of pay and public holiday entitlements in each state and territory, a list of the different public holidays for each state, as well as frequently asked questions,” James said. 

“There is a range of free online tools business owners can utilise, such as PayCheck Plus, to calculate the correct pay for their employees, including penalty rates and public holiday rates.

“PayCheck Plus calculates minimum rates of pay per hour, per shift or per week and takes account of payments for overtime, penalty rates and allowances.”

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