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The backbone of any organisation is its people. In the case of a business, employees help a business run efficiently and effectively. However, specific laws and regulations are in place to reduce the significant power imbalance between an employer and an employee. This is so that employers cannot take advantage of their employees. One of the benefits that the law prescribes for employees is public holidays. Generally, employers cannot request their staff to work on these holidays. However, there are exceptions to this rule. This article explains when an employee is expected to work on a public holiday.

What Is a Public Holiday?

Public holidays are specific days during the year in which an employee does not have to work. They usually coincide with important religious and cultural celebrations such as Christmas and Easter. New Zealand employment law recognises public holidays and allows employees to take a break during the year. Most shops will close but there are no obligations to do so unless they are on a restricted day.

Restricted Shop Trading Days

There are three and a half days during the year where most shops must close. These are:

  • Good Friday; 
  • Easter Sunday; 
  • ANZAC (up until 1 pm); and 
  • Christmas Day. 

The only shops allowed to open are those that serve essential goods. For example, a small grocery store or a service station may remain open. These regulations are in place to protect employees from having to work every single day of the year.

Working on a Public Holiday

If your employees usually work on a day that a public holiday falls on, the law allows them to take the day off. Remember, as an employer, you have good faith obligations which extend to not making your employees work on a public holiday. However, there is an exception to this. You can request your employees to work if they agreed to do so. Importantly, check your employment agreement with that particular employee. If your employees do work on a public holiday, the law entitles them to receive additional benefits.

Benefits When Working on a Public Holiday

Generally, you should allow your workers a break from working on a public holiday. However, if your employees do end up working, you must provide additional benefits, including:

  • time and a half; and
  • a day in lieu.

Time and a Half

If your employees work on a public holiday, they are entitled to time and a half pay. This means that paying your employees 50% more than you usually would on a regular day. The extra pay encourages your employees to work on these holidays and gives them an additional benefit for working on a day they can take off.

To recoup this increased payment, your business can choose to charge a ‘public holiday surcharge’. This surcharge is usually 15% in New Zealand.

Day in Lieu

In addition to time and a half, an employee who works on a public holiday is also entitled to a day in lieu. This means that your employee is entitled to an extra day off work to account for working on a public holiday. You fully pay this day at their typical rate on any given day.

Even if your employees only worked for part of the day on the public holiday, their day in lieu must be a full day.

Entitlements for Casual Employees

A casual employee is an employee on a casual contract. They are not guaranteed any work and can decline any invitation to work on a particular day. If you request your casual employees to work on a public holiday, you must pay them time and a half. Additionally, you must also provide a day in lieu if your causal staff usually works on the day that the public holiday falls. 

However, you may employ a casual employee to work only on public holidays. In this case, you do not need to provide them a day in lieu. Importantly, check your employment agreements with your staff for the specifics of the employment arrangement. 

Key Takeaways

Employees are entitled to several benefits when working for a business. These benefits create a positive culture within an organisation and help employees stay motivated. Public holidays are specific days during the year when an employee does not have to work unless their contract stipulates this obligation. As an employer, you must not force an employee to work on a public holiday if they do not want to. Likewise, if your employee chooses to work, they are entitled to benefits such as time and a half and a day in lieu. This also applies to casual employees. 

For legal assistance with leave, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if no staff wish to work on a public holiday?

You cannot force your staff to work on a public holiday unless there is a clause in their contract pertaining to this. The best thing you can do is either offer to pay your staff more than time and a half on a public holiday or not open at all on that day.

Can my employee take their day in lieu at any time?

You and your employee must agree to a day that works for both parties. If you can reach no agreement, you can pick a day but must give sufficient notice to your employee.

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