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‘Twas the week before Christmas

On 19 December 2018, Physiotherapists working in a large public health service in Melbourne were notified that if there weren’t enough volunteers to work on Christmas Day, names would be pulled out of a hat and those chosen would be required to work on the public holiday.

Physiotherapists in that particular service had never previously been required to work on Christmas Day and planning for public holiday cover earlier in 2018 had dealt with cover for all other public holidays up to January 2019, with no mention of any expectation that Physiotherapists would be required to work on Christmas Day. Accordingly, most had already made plans well in advance to spend the day with family.

Members of the team were understandably distressed by the late management proposal and contacted VAHPA Member Assist for advice and assistance.

VAHPA liaised with members of the team and wrote to senior management outlining why the proposed request to work on Christmas Day would be unreasonable, having regard to the late notice of the proposed request, and the Physiotherapists’ reasonably-held expectation from precedent and from earlier holiday cover planning that they would not be required to work on the public holiday.

VAHPA also wrote to all of the union members in the team, explaining the steps VAHPA had taken to assist, and providing step-by-step advice as to what to do in case management persisted with the unfair proposal.

As a result of VAHPA’s intervention on behalf of its members, management retracted their proposal and the affected Physiotherapists were able to spend Christmas as planned, taking a well-earned break with their loved ones.

While it will often be reasonable for an employer to request an employee work on a public holiday, in some cases (for example where insufficient notice is given) it is not reasonable, and the request may be refused on that basis. Even if a request to work on a public holiday is reasonable, it may still be reasonable to refuse such a request depending on a number of factors, including the employee’s family responsibility and/or other personal circumstances.

If you have been requested to work on a public holiday and you’re not sure if the request is reasonable or if you have a valid reason to refuse, get in touch with VAHPA Member Assist by calling 1300 322 917 or via email:

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