Melbourne Cup Day: What employers need to know

There are multiple benefits to allowing employees to take the afternoon off to celebrate the festivities

Melbourne Cup Day: What employers need to know

If you live in Victoria, the good news is that Melbourne Cup day is a public holiday. For the other States and Territories, the celebration is simply another ordinary working day.

However, the ‘race that stops the nation’ naturally halts many workplaces, where varying degrees of celebration and festivities are a common part of workplace culture.

Even though many workplaces will pause for the race, some employers might argue that the loss in productivity is detrimental to the overall business and disruption to clients may look unprofessional.

However, Isabella Zamorano a Senior Employment Relations Adviser at Employsure, said there are some benefits of allowing employees to take the afternoon off to celebrate the festivities.

“By allowing employees time away from work to attend events like a Melbourne Cup lunch, teams will benefit from bonding time together outside work, getting to know each other in a more casual environment,” said Zamorano.

“Social events can encourage staff to stay in their jobs longer.”

Zamorano added that by offering additional benefits such as time off work for events, your employees might speak more favourably about working at your business to others thus providing positive exposure for your business.

For some employees, an afternoon off may not be enough time to celebrate (or recover) so they may be tempted to ‘chuck a sickie’ on the following day or extend the normal two-day weekend to four days, by taking the Monday off sick. However, in doing so, they might be taking non-genuine leave. 

Zamorano said the most important aspect of managing employee absences on or after Cup Day is ensuring that the rules for sick days or expectations for Cup Day are understood from the outset.

She said ensure clear policies are in place upfront and that these are communicated to staff – including those relating to work on public holidays, notice of sick leave absences and the evidence that is required to support such absences.

Inform staff in advance of the sick leave policy, including the requirement that they provide a medical certificate as evidence in relation to any absences on Cup Day or the following day.

The Fair Work Act and the National Employment Standards (NES) make it clear that employers can require notification from employees of any absence and evidence to support any personal leave they take.

It’s not uncommon for a Melbourne Cup lunch or afternoon drink to quickly evolve into after work drinks.

Consequently, it is critical for employers to be clear with employees about the start and end times of the function.

Zamorano advised employers to, explicitly detail what times and where staff are expected to be. For example, “at 3.30 pm work resumes” or “staff may leave early after the race, but the work day ends when staff leave the office”.

“The reason this is important is because events that occur outside the work function can still be an employer’s responsibility such as workplace injuries, harassment claims and even criminal offences.”

While it’s generally acceptable to have a “punt” in the betting sweeps, gambling is a particularly sensitive subject for certain people. Some cultural or religious groups have prohibitions on gambling as an activity.

In other cases, a person may have experience with a gambling addiction. Ms Zamorano said employers should be mindful to ensure that these people are not forced, or negatively impacted.

“You cannot force employees to participate in social festivities, nor would that be an enjoyable experience for those involved.

Many businesses host betting sweeps as part of Melbourne Cup celebrations and a number of people who don’t normally gamble will participate on the day.

However, employers should be mindful that some people may have genuine objections to gambling, horse racing or alcohol related events.”

Festivities always have an element of risk whether it be alcohol related or not. Employers have a duty of care towards employees and should not put their health or safety on the line at the event or after an event.

“Employers should be clear and transparent about their drug and alcohol policies setting out standards and expectations before, during, and after these events as well as being clear on the start and finish times of any employer run events,” said Zamorano.

“This will create a defined line as to when the event finished and therefore impact on the employer’s responsibilities and obligations.”

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