November 11 is Polish Independence Day. In what historians refer to as the partitions, Russia, Austria and Prussia gradually annexed parts of Poland, so that it ultimately disappeared from the map of Europe altogether for 123 years, only reappearing as an independent nation in the aftermath of WW1, in 1918. On this day each year Polish people take part in a variety of events such as military parades, “national runs” wearing the official state colours, 100-push-up challenges for gym lovers and other lunatics, fairs and many other activities. They also indulge by tradition in baked goose with apples. Inevitably some get carried away and choose to celebrate more enthusiastically, in ways not always fully appreciated by the law enforcement agencies (though let us not spoil the moment by dwelling on that).

This year November 11 is a Sunday, so already a non-working day for most. However, the Polish government decided that this 100th anniversary is so seminal that it declared November 12 a public holiday for everyone. Almost everyone, anyway. As of this year increased restrictions on working on Sundays and on public holidays were introduced in Poland in the face of stiff opposition from retailers and other businesses anticipating material drops in revenues. Malls can open only two Sundays per month. As a result, the original plan was that the 12 November holiday would not apply to retail workers, no doubt to the considerable relief of businesses and the equally considerable irritation of those workers. The Government was obviously hoping that many Poles would mark this key anniversary with a busy day at the shops. However, the Senate (the upper chamber of the Polish Parliament) has since decided that the opportunity to celebrate should be equal for everyone and changed the rules for the 12 November. The Sejm (the lower chamber of the Polish Parliament) is still working on the project – so all concerned, workers and employers will get to know only at the eleventh hour.

Notwithstanding the indecision as to whether or not the malls should be open, the declaration of 12 November as a public holiday was made by the ruling party only a few weeks prior to the date itself (did they not see the centenary coming any earlier?), with little other obvious thought as to the consequences for businesses. There are well-known statutory rules about working on public holidays which will apply but they do not deal with the practical questions of what happens when at very short notice everyone suddenly wants the same time off (or the same time on, given the shift premiums applicable in some cases), and not everyone can have it.

Employers will need to revisit delivery schedules, production planning, supply arrangements, etc., and then think about what that means for their staffing needs. Working on 12 November will be possible only in those areas where it is permissible by law, for example in continuous work systems, in shift systems, as well as in shipping and communication. When distributing the work the employer should be able to show that its allocation of work and/or time off has been made on non-discriminatory grounds. Ideally, the employer should develop a set of criteria which are objective and defensible and allow as little scope as possible for the exercise of perceived bias, discrimination or favouritism. There will always be those employees who are disadvantaged by this through no fault of their own, but the trade-off could for example be preferential treatment in the allocation of holidays over the Christmas and New Year period instead. If time allows between now and 12 November it may be sensible to consult the local trade union as to how such allocations might most fairly be made, but that will clearly need to be very quick if decisions are to be made in time to give the affected staff any notice of their final position at all.

Hats off and long live Poland! May you enjoy many more centenaries! Nastepnych 100 lat