By Jessica Husband

While most of us look forward to public holidays, for business owners it can be an overwhelming period because they can create extra admin tasks that demand precious time and attention.

So, to help you manage public holidays compliantly, our experts have put together this easy-to-understand guide explaining everything employers must know from how to respond to last-minute leave requests, to public holiday pay rates.

The essential public holiday dates in 2024 are:

  • Regional Anniversary Day – variable, one per region
  • Good Friday – Friday 29 March 2024
  • Easter Monday – Monday 1 April 2024
  • ANZAC Day – Thursday 25 April 2024
  • King’s Birthday – Monday 3 June 2024
  • Matariki – Friday 28 June 2024 (this changes every year)
  • Labour Day – Monday 28 October 2024
  • Christmas Day – Wednesday 25 December 2024
  • Boxing Day – Thursday 26 December 2024

There are four typical scenarios in which workers require different holiday pay entitlements:

1. An employee is working on a public holiday but it’s not a normal working day for them.

You’re required to pay them at least time and a half, or their on-call allowance, for working the holiday.

2. An employee doesn’t work on a public holiday, and it’s not normally a day they would work.

You’re not required to pay them for the holiday as it’s not an ordinary working day. For example, someone if someone is rostered Monday to Thursday but Christmas Day falls on a Friday, they are not entitled to payment for the Christmas public holiday.

3. An employee doesn’t work the public holiday, but the public holiday would otherwise be a normal working day.

You must pay them their normal daily pay even though they did not work.

4. An employee works on a public holiday, including on-call, and it’s a day your employee would normally work.

You must pay them at least time and a half, or their on-call allowance, plus they should get a full alternative day off (day in lieu) unless you only employ them to work on public holidays.

Can I ask my employee to work on a public holiday?

Your employee can only be required to work on a public holiday if their employment agreement states that they must work when a public holiday falls on their normal working day, or if they agree to.

You can ask an employee to work on a public holiday, keeping in mind that your request must be reasonable.

Your employees are entitled to 12 public holidays a year. However, they’re only entitled to a paid public holiday if it falls on their normal day of work.

An employee may refuse the request to work a public holiday if:

  • Your request is not reasonable; or
  • Their refusal is reasonable.

Here are the factors to consider when determining if a request (or refusal) to work on a public holiday is reasonable:

  • The employee’s personal circumstances (e.g. family or carer’s responsibilities).
  • The business’s operational requirements can be considered (how badly do I need the employee to work that day?).
  • Whether the employee could reasonably expect to be asked to work on a public holiday.
  • Whether the employee would be compensated with penalty payments, overtime etc.
  • The amount of notice in advance that you gave when making the request, and by the employee when refusing the request.
  • Public holidays in a leave period.
  • If your business has an office shutdown, or an employee is on leave, and a public holiday falls within that period, your workers are still entitled to a paid public holiday that will not be counted as an annual leave day.

Casual workers: are they entitled to anything on public holidays?

There are circumstances where casuals may get entitlements for working on a public holiday. If a casual employee works on a public holiday, they must receive time and a half for the hours worked, unless they were employed to strictly work public holidays and it’s outlined in the agreement.

If a casual usually works the day of the public holiday but doesn’t, they’re entitled to a paid public holiday not worked. However, if this is the case, then they might not actually be a true casual according to the law, as there’s a strong pattern.

Accident Compensation Corporation or parental leave: what happens next?

If you’re not currently paying an employee because they’re on Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) leave or parental leave, you’re not required to pay them for any public holidays during the unpaid leave period. However, do note that ACC leave is regarded as continuous employment so annual leave entitlements will still accrue. ACC covers 80 per cent of normal wages, which will include the public holidays not worked.

Shift worker? On call?

On-call and shift work are notoriously complex arrangements for working out the public holiday entitlements. Employees who work a shift and work on a public holiday should receive time and a half for the hours they work. If they would have ordinarily worked on that day, then they also are entitled to an alternative holiday.

For on-call employees, the public holiday entitlement will depend on the type of arrangement you have with that employee. Usually, public holiday entitlements would apply if the employee was unable to enjoy a full holiday due to their on-call requirements.  If in doubt, pay time and a half for being on call if there are restrictions.

Can public holidays be swapped or substituted?

Sometimes you might have a business reason, or your employee may have a personal reason, for observing a public holiday on a different calendar day. To swap a public holiday you must have an agreement in writing.

I’ve terminated an employee, or they have resigned. Are they owed any public holiday money?

Upon termination or resignation of an employee’s service, you must pay them for any public holidays that would have fallen in their available leave period, as if they had taken their annual leave entitlement from the day after the last day of their notice period. For example, someone whose last day of service is 31 January and who has two weeks’ leave owed to them would get paid out for the public holiday of Waitangi Day on 6 February.

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