As community transmission of COVID-19 accelerates in Queensland, it is likely your business has or will need to manage unexpected employee absences. In this update, we give an overview of employee leave entitlements in connection with contracting COVID-19, isolating or caring for an immediate household member with COVID-19.
Leave available to COVID-19 positive employees
While recovering, permanent employees may be entitled to access various leave entitlements under the National Employment Standards (NES). As a first option, they may access paid personal/carer’s leave (which covers situations where an employee is absent from the workplace due to illness). Permanent employees accrue 10 days’ personal/carer’s leave per year of service.
If a permanent employee has insufficient personal/carer’s leave to cover their absence, they may access unpaid personal leave, paid annual leave or unpaid pandemic leave instead.
Two weeks’ unpaid pandemic leave is available to certain award covered employees (whether full-time, part-time or casual) required to self-isolate or quarantine under public health orders. The full two weeks is immediately available and may be used instead of accrued leave entitlements (such as personal/carer’s leave or annual leave). Unpaid pandemic leave will remain available until at least 30 June 2022.
Casual employees have no entitlement to paid personal leave or paid annual leave under the NES. If eligible, they may access unpaid pandemic leave while they recover.
If possible, it is also an option for COVID-19 positive permanent employees who feel well enough to work remotely if the nature of their job allows it.
Leave available to close contacts of a COVID-19 positive case
Permanent employees required to isolate under public health orders as close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case may access unpaid pandemic leave. Alternatively, they may:
- apply to take annual leave or personal leave (despite not being sick);
- apply to take unpaid leave; or
- seek to work remotely during the isolation period,
and it would be up to the individual employer.
Casual employees have no access to paid personal leave. However, if eligible, they may access unpaid pandemic leave.
Employees required to care for a household member who is COVID-19 positive or a close contact of a confirmed case
Permanent employees who need to take time off to care for family members who have tested positive or who are required to isolate may access paid (or unpaid) personal/carer’s leave to cover their absence.
Personal/carer’s leave is available when an employee is required to take time off to care for a member of their immediate household (such as a spouse or child) due to illness, injury or an unexpected emergency. The Fair Work Ombudsman has issued guidance indicating that this would cover scenarios where a childcare centre closes unexpectedly due to COVID-19 exposure and a parent needs to stay home to care for their child.
Casual employees may access up to two days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion to care for a member of their immediate household affected by COVID-19.
All types of leave, including unpaid pandemic leave, are subject to the usual notice and evidential requirements.
While certain industrial instruments (such as awards, enterprise agreements or employment contracts) may prescribe minimum entitlements to paid or unpaid leave, it is open to employers to offer more generous unpaid leave entitlements or negotiate alternative working arrangements with their workforce (such as remote working) to minimise the risk of COVID-19 related workforce shortages and business interruption where possible.
How can we help?
We can provide advice on your specific circumstances, including work health and safety obligations and employee entitlements.