Many businesses will already be planning their hours of operation over the Christmas period. For some, it will be their busiest time of year, whereas other businesses will close and take a well-earned break.

For employers, there’s a few extra things to remember in relation to your employees’ entitlements over the next month.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has very helpfully summarised the most important matters to note over the coming months.

Taking any annual leave during a shutdown

An employer can direct an employee to take annual leave whilst the business is closed over Christmas, provided this is permitted by the applicable Award or any registered agreement.

If there is no applicable Award, then an employer can only direct an employee to take annual leave if the direction is reasonable in all of the circumstances.

Alternatively, employees may agree with their employers to take either annual leave or unpaid leave during any Christmas closure.


Employers need to consult with their applicable Awards, enterprise agreements, contracts or other registered agreements.

There are often additional entitlements for working public holidays, including:

  • public holiday extra pay rates
  • an extra day off or extra annual leave
  • minimum shift lengths on public holidays
  • substituting a public holiday for another day

Working on public holidays or not?

An employer can make a reasonable request for an employee to work on a public holiday.

However, the employer can’t force the employee to work on that day. An employee may refuse a request to work if they have reasonable grounds.

What is reasonable and what is not? The employer will need to balance the needs of both the employer and the employee and consider everything which may be relevant, including:

  • the employee’s personal and family circumstances
  • whether the employee will receive penalty rates or other entitlements
  • whether the employee’s salary takes into account work on a public holiday
  • whether the employee is full-time, part-time, casual or a shift worker
  • the type of work the employee usually undertakes
  • the needs of the workplace on the public holiday
  • how much notice the employee was given about the employer’s request
  • the amount of notice the employee provided to the employer that they refused the request to work on the public holiday.

What are the public holidays over this year’s Christmas and New Year period?

  • Sunday 24 December – Christmas Eve (from 6pm to 12 midnight)
  • Monday 25 December – Christmas Day
  • Tuesday 26 December – Boxing Day
  • Monday 1 January – New Year’s Day

Employment Lawyer Cairns