Public holiday entitlements are provided for under the National Employment Standards. They apply to all employees in the national workplace system, regardless of the applicable employment arrangement. Under the National Employment Standards employees may be absent from work on a public holiday. An employer may request an employee to work on a public holiday if the request is reasonable, but an employee can refuse such a a request if their refusal is reasonable.

Payment for public holidays

Full-time and part-time workers will be paid their normal all-purpose or base rate for that day if they are absent from work. However, employees are not entitled under the NES to payment if a public holiday falls on a day outside an ordinary workday.

For example, if Sunday is a public holiday, and an employee doesn’t normally work Sundays, then they will not be paid for that day.

This applies particularly to part-time workers, where a public holiday falls on a week day, but the employee does not usually work on that day. In that case, the part-time employee will not be entitled to receive payment for the public holiday.

When are public holidays?

The following days are public holidays specified under the National Employment Standards:

  • 1 January (New Year’s Day)
  • 26 January (Australia Day)
  • Good Friday
  • Easter Monday
  • 25 April (Anzac Day)
  • Queen’s Birthday Holiday (the day on which it is celebrated in a State or Territory)
  • 25 December (Christmas Day)
  • 26 December (Boxing Day)
  • Any other day, or part-day, declared or prescribed by or under a law of a State or Territory to be observed generally within the State or Territory or a region of the State or Territory, as a public holiday.

Some industrial instruments may allow employees and employers to agree to substitute an existing public holiday for another day off; however, an employer may not exert undue influence or pressure on an employee to force agreement about substitution of public holidays.

Additionally, states and territories may alter the dates on which certain public holidays will fall—for example, when a public holiday falls on a weekend. Employers and employees may need to consult with respective state and/or territory entities to confirm some public holiday dates.

State

State Department

Contact number

Australian Capital Territory

Chief Minister and Cabinet

13 22 81

New South Wales

NSW Industrial Relations

131 628

Northern Territory

Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment

(08) 8999 5511

Queensland

Queensland Government

13 74 68

South Australia

SafeWork SA

1300 365 255

Tasmania

WorkSafe Tasmania

1300 366 322

Victoria

Business Victoria

13 22 15

Western Australia

Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety

1300 655 266

Working on a public holiday

Working on a public holiday generally entitles employees to a higher rate of pay for that day, as a form of compensation. Similar to overtime rates, public holiday penalty rates will vary according to an industrial instrument but are usually a percentage of an employee’s all-purpose or base rate.

For example, if you work on Australia Day the penalty rate may be:

  • 2.5 times the all-purpose rate for the day.

An employer may reasonably request that an employee work on a public holiday and an employee is allowed to reasonably refuse. To decide if a request or a refusal is reasonable, employees and employers need to consider:

  • the nature of the employer’s workplace and its operational requirements
  • the nature of the work performed by the employee
  • the employee’s personal circumstances
  • whether the employee is entitled to receive additional or higher rates of pay for working on the public holiday
  • the type of employment
  • whether any advance notice was provided
  • any other relevant matter for consideration.

Example: working interstate on a public holiday

Jenny is an employee of a Melbourne company. She is sent to Queensland to perform work and while she is there, it's the Grand Final Day public holiday. The public holiday is on a weekday Jenny ordinarily would have worked.

Since Jenny's employment base is Melbourne, she is entitled to the public holiday entitlements for that day, even though it is not a public holiday in the state where she is working.