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It’s the race that stops the nation but Melbourne Cup is also the race the halts workplaces – and not just in Victoria where the event is marked with a public holiday. While Melbourne Cup festivities are a great way to generate goodwill amongst employees, SMEs must take steps to discharge their duty of care obligations and otherwise ensure the business isn’t adversely affected.  

In conversation with Dynamic Business, Lea Fox, Senior Workplace Advisor at Employsure, provided pointers for employers to help ensure their Melbourne Cup Festivities are a boon, rather than a headache, for their business.

DB: What are the risks and what measures should SMEs have in place?

Fox: As festivities always have an element of risk, employers should be clear and transparent in terms of what is expected from all employees – before, during and after these events.

Drug and alcohol policies setting out standards and expectations will assist in establishing how an employee may conduct themselves. Further, it would be helpful for a business to remind employees of these expectations prior to the festivities, as well as being clear on the start and finish times of any employer run events. This will create a defined line as to when the event finished and therefore impact on the employer’s responsibilities and obligations.

DB: Can employees be directed to join in the festivities even if they object?

Fox: 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.

Employers have a duty of care towards employees and should not put their health or safety on the line. Free flowing bubbles in particular can lead to a number of incidents, at the event or after.

DB: Can employers direct staff to return to work following festivities?

Fox: Some employers might argue that the loss in productivity is detrimental to the overall business and disruption to clients may look unprofessional, however, there are some benefits of allowing employees to take the afternoon off to celebrate the festivities.

By allowing your team time away from work to attend events like a Melbourne Cup lunch, your team will benefit from bonding time together outside work, getting to know each other in a more casual environment. It is often a good team environment that encourages staff to stay in their jobs longer.

A break from regular responsibilities can energise the team, provide a boost of motivation and innovation when they return to work and have the result of creating the feeling of camaraderie among your staff which may also increase staff morale.

DB: How can SMEs ensure productivity doesn’t take a dive on the day?

Fox: Melbourne Cup always brings an influx of calls to our Advice line with employers in Victoria unsure of their obligations to staff. In all 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 festivity are a common part of workplace culture.

Flexibility is key. Demonstrate to people why you need coverage on a particular day, but welcome flexibility. Small businesses in particular should adopt a flexible approach because the absence of one or two employees has a big effect on the business. Employers should embrace transparency and openness.

In addition, if managed effectively so your customers and business are not affected, time out for Melbourne Cup can have a positive effect on your business and staff morale.

DB: What should SMEs do to prevent sickies on or around Melbourne Cup?

Fox: The most important aspect of managing employee absences on or after Cup Day is ensuring that the rules are understood from the outset. The following tips will assist you to manage any unplanned absences at this time.

  • Ensure that 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.
  • Where staff are required to work on Cup Day, inform them of this requirement well in advance.
  • Use a Sickness Certification Form to be completed by employees upon their return from sick leave. This form asks employees whether they consulted a doctor, and if they are fit to return to work. The Sickness Certification Form is an example of the type of formal steps needed to ensure employees use leave entitlements appropriately.

About Lea Fox

Lea Fox is a Senior Workplace Adviser at Employsure. After completing an undergraduate degree in Psychology, Lea undertook a Masters of Commerce in Human Resources. Lea’s working profile includes employment in State Government, Federal Government and in the education sector including first-hand experience as a small business owner.





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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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