How to Best Prepare for the End of the Year

1 December 2023

With Christmas now less than one month away, it is a good time to start planning for the end of the year, including your Christmas party, annual shutdown and rostering for public holidays.

Christmas Parties

Christmas parties are a great opportunity for employers to reward hard work and can have a positive impact on team culture. However, Christmas parties can often be a stressful time for employers due to risk of over-indulgence and potential workplace incidents.

Here are a few tips for the event to ensure all goes smoothly:

  • Check your policies – Ensure that your internal policies and procedures are up to date and in line with best practice. In particular, the Code of Conduct, Drug and Alcohol, and Bullying and Harassment policies.
  • Communicate with staff – Ensuring all your staff understand your internal policies and their behavioural responsibilities is crucial for preventing potential incidents from occurring. Send an email to employees or attach a note to the notice board before the event reminding all staff that while the party is a celebration it is also a work function.
  • Serve alcohol responsibly – If alcohol is served at the party, make sure it is served in line with relevant legislation and is compliant with RSA. Speak to the venue management team prior to the event and reinforce that you expect RSA to be enforced.
  • Plan for after the event – Where appropriate, make arrangements for your employees to get home safely after the event. Organise a bus, pre-order some taxis or arrange for some designated drivers. Workers who are injured on their way home from a work function may be entitled to workers compensation claims.

Annual Shutdown

Christmas is a great opportunity to spend time with friends and family, to take some time off work, and reenergise for the new year ahead. Making a decision on whether to close your business should be based on finding a balance between what is appropriate for your business while considering the sensitivities of your staff and clients. Some offices and businesses need to stay open as Christmas can be the busiest time of year. However, for companies that find phone calls and emails slowing down over the Christmas period, the decision of whether to stay open or not can be difficult.

If you’re looking to close down your business during this time, here are the most important things you need to do:

  • Check the applicable modern awards – Most awards will outline the terms in which employers are allowed to send employees on an annual shutdown. This usually requires an employer giving affected employees at least four weeks’ notice, although an award or agreement may require a greater notice period.
  • Determine if you need skeleton staff over the holiday period – Although many workplaces shut down around the holiday period, some organisations require continuous staffing. To prepare for this, finalise the roster well in advance, clarify responsibilities during this time, and provide emergency contact information. Also, keep in mind that you have extra obligations towards employees working over this period as they may be entitled to extra pay or an extra day off, particularly if they work on public holidays.
  • Ensure outstanding tasks are completed:
    • Make sure your clients and suppliers know of the closure.
    • Send out or pay any outstanding invoices.
    • Schedule your pay runs for the period of the closure (if applicable).
    • Set up an out-of-office email for the business and all staff and change the voice message of any or all telephones.
    • Reschedule or cancel any incoming or ongoing deliveries or services (e.g., regular supplier packages).

Obligations Regarding Public Holidays

Earlier this year, the Federal Court decided that employers would no longer be entitled to issue a formal requirement for employees to work public holidays without having first made a non-binding request and considering the employee’s response. Failure by the employer to make a genuine ‘request’ to work before imposing a requirement may result in a claim alleging a breach of the NES. For contraventions employers may be fined up to $165,000.

The key takeaways of this decision include:

  • There is nothing unlawful in having an operation which includes working hours on public holidays, however employers no longer have the right to simply roster or ‘require’ employees to work on public holidays. A request must be made first in relation to each public holiday.
  • An employer cannot rely solely on a term in an employment contract, modern award or enterprise agreement which states the requirement of the employee to work on a public holiday. Instead, a ‘request’ needs to be made by the employer to the employee which gives the employee a choice about agreeing to work the shift or not.
  • The request by the employer needs to be ‘reasonable’. As long as the request by the employer is reasonable, an employee can only refuse to work the public holiday shift if the refusal is reasonable.

For more information on how to end your year successfully, please contact us via the link below.