Ho-ho-holiday time again: is your business prepared for the Christmas period?

Leading up to Christmas can be a hectic time for people. As an employer you can ease some of that stress by ensuring your workforce and business are prepared for what is happening over the Christmas break.

Once again we find ourselves in November, with another year nearly complete and Christmas fast approaching. Has your business started preparing for the silly season? If not, there is no time like the present. There is a lot to consider leading up to the Christmas period, and in this blog post we will focus on managing annual leave, staffing levels, skeleton staff, and compulsory shutdowns. These are important considerations that ensure your business and team have a smooth transition in and out of the Christmas period.

Communication

Effective communication is the cornerstone to managing times of change, high stress, uncertainty, and adjustment, such as the Christmas period. Your employees should be aware of what is occurring over the Christmas period, including if there is a shutdown period, skeleton staff or if it is business as usual.

Employee contacts and annual leave policies and procedures should already inform employees what the expectation is over the Christmas period regarding their requirement to work or take annual leave. However, it is best practice to communication what the arrangement is over the Christmas period to employees in writing. This includes when shutdown and blackout periods will be, why it is occurring and important dates including, when annual leave requests are required by (when relevant).

Shutdown period

It is imperative to be aware of the award your employees are employed under. Some awards allow businesses to mandate employees to take annual leave during a shutdown period. If directing employees to take annual leave during a shutdown period it must be in writing, be reasonable, employees given adequate notice and specified in the award.

A conversation needs to be had with employees who do not have enough annual leave to cover the shutdown period. The award may allow for the employee to take leave before they have accrued it or unpaid leave. In the event an employee continues to work during a shutdown period it must be agreed upon with their manager.

Blackout period

For some businesses the Christmas and New Year period is a busy time and annual leave during this period is not feasible. If this is the case employees need to be informed that leave will not be approved during the specific dates and why.

Under the Fair Work Act employers have the right to refuse annual leave requests if it is deemed reasonable. If there is a period when no annual leave will be approved this should be noted in the workplace annual leave policy and the employees contract.

While an employer has the right to refuse leave based on ‘reasonable business grounds’ it is important that if an employer does receive a request for annual leave during a blackout period that it is given careful consideration to avoid disputes or claims.

Skeleton staff

Some businesses will be required to remain operational over the Christmas period but will see a reduction in work demands. In this circumstance staffing levels are required at a reduced capacity, leaving a handful of staff to cover the work over a set period.

It is important to request staff interest in working over the Christmas period and ensure it is allocated fairly from year to year. There should be a senior employee or manager working over the Christmas period who continues to provide leadership, guidance and support to the employees working over that time. While you will find some staff are consistently happy to work over the Christmas period, there should not be a reliance on these employees to work during the Christmas period year in and out, as there might come a time when they want a break during this time.

To demonstrate support and thanks to employees who work over the Christmas period consider providing some flexibility and leniency around start and finish times to help create a casual, pleasant working environment. Be mindful that the skeleton staff may need time off in January or February and any annual leave requests should be prioritised.

Managing annual leave, Christmas closures and staffing becomes hectic and stressful when left to the last minute. Be sure to take the pressure off by organising rosters, approving leave, and informing staff of Christmas closures/blackouts now. It is also imperative employees are familiar with workplace awards that are relevant to their employees. Understanding conditions under relevant awards is the cornerstone for adequately managing staff and avoiding unlawful discrimination claims and disputes.

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