What are employees entitled to be paid, if they can’t work because they are quarantined or self-isolated?

Employees should contact their employer immediately if they are required to enter quarantine or to self-isolate because of COVID-19.

The Fair Work Act does not have specific rules for these kind of situations, so employees and employers need to come to their own arrangement.

This may include:

  • taking sick leave (if the employee is sick)
  • taking annual leave
  • taking any other leave available to them (such as long service leave or any other leave available under an award, enterprise agreement or employment contract)
  • arranging any other paid or unpaid leave by agreement between the employee and employer
  • working from home or another location (if this is a practical option)

Where an employer directs a permanent employee to stay home in line with advice, for example in line with the Australian Government’s health and quarantine advice, and the employee isn’t sick with COVID-19, the employee should ordinarily be paid while directed to stay at home by the employer. 

However, if an employee cannot work because they’re subject to an enforceable government direction requiring them to self-quarantine, the employee isn’t ordinarily entitled to be paid (unless they use leave entitlements). In this case, their inability to work is because of an enforceable government direction, not because of their employer.

Employers should consider whether their obligations are impacted by any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employees’ employment contracts or workplace policies, which may be more generous. 

Can an employer direct an employee to take annual leave?

Employers and employees usually agree for the employee to take paid annual leave. In some circumstances, employers can require employees to take paid annual leave.

Whether an employer can direct an employee to take annual leave in circumstances relating to COVID-19 usually depends on what the relevant award or enterprise agreement says. 

For an employer to direct an employee to take annual leave, any award or agreement that applies must include a term allowing employees to be required to take annual leave in particular circumstances, and the requirement must be reasonable. 

The Building and Construction General On-Site Award 2010, which applies to many building employees only allows employers to direct employees to take annual leave over the Christmas/New Year period. 

What happens if an employee can’t come to work because of school/day care closures?

Employees who cannot come to work because they need to care for a child whose school or childcare centre has closed will ordinarily need to use paid leave entitlements to be paid for their absence.

Paid carer’s leave is available to permanent employees where the employee needs to look after a family member or a member of their household who requires care or support because of a personal illness or unexpected emergency affecting the member. 

Whether particular circumstances amount to an employee needing to provide care or support to an employee or support due to an unexpected emergency will depend on the particular facts. A school or childcare centre closing on short notice and for a short period due to concerns about COVID-19 (for example, because someone at the school has tested positive) is an unexpected emergency for this purpose.

Casual employees are entitled to two days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion. Permanent employees are also entitled to take two days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion if they have no paid sick or carer’s leave left. 

An employee must give their employer reasonable evidence of the unexpected emergency if their employer asks for it. 

Can employees access personal leave if they’re being tested for COVID-19, but are not unwell?

Employees should contact their employer immediately if they are acting on government advice to self-isolate or quarantine.

The Fair Work Act does not provide an entitlement to personal leave if an employee is not sick. Employers and employees need to come to their own arrangement. This may include:

  • taking annual leave
  • taking any other leave available to them (such as long service leave or any other leave available under an award, enterprise agreement or employment contract)
  • arranging any other paid or unpaid leave by agreement between the employee and employer
  • working from home or another location (if this is a practical option).

If an employee became unwell, they would be entitled to take sick leave.

Employers should consider whether their obligations are impacted by any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employees’ employment contracts or workplace policies, which may be more generous. 

When can employers direct employees to stay away from work under work health and safety laws?

Safe Work Australia has information about when an employer can direct employees to stay away from their workplace under the model workplace health and safety laws.

More information can be obtained from:

Can an employer unilaterally change an employee’s regular hours of work?

Employers who engage employees under an award or enterprise agreement, that has been approved by the Fair Work Commission on or after 1 January 2014, are required to consult with employees regarding a proposed change of roster or ordinary hours of work. 

Where an employer proposes to introduce a change, the employer must first notify the employees. The employer must:

  • provide information to the employees about the change
  • invite the employees to give their views about the impact of the change
  • consider views given by the employees
  • allow the employees to have a representative with them during the consultation.

Employers should consider whether their obligations are impacted by any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employees’ employment contracts or workplace policies, which may provide additional requirements. 

Changes to an employee’s start and finish times (for example, in order to avoid crowds during peak hours) might be possible under the span of hours provisions in an award or enterprise agreement. Some awards and enterprise agreements also allow the span of hours to be varied by agreement.

Reducing a permanent employee’s ordinary hours usually requires the employee’s agreement.

An employer and employee may agree to an ‘individual flexibility arrangement’, which allows them to vary terms in their award or enterprise agreement relating to when work is performed. Individual flexibility arrangements only apply to an individual employee, must be in writing, and are subject to a number of safeguards to ensure the agreement has been genuinely made and the employee is left better off overall. 

What entitlements does an employer have to pay an employee, if the State goes into lockdown or the employer cannot trade?

Where the Commonwealth or a State or Territory Government makes an order, determination or direction that is enforceable under the law (an enforceable government direction) that prevents an employee from working, an employer is not required to pay the employee (unless the employee uses paid leave entitlements). 

What happens if an employee or their family is sick with COVID-19?

Permanent employees who cannot come to work because they are sick with COVID-19 are entitled to take paid sick leave. 

Employers can direct employees who are sick with coronavirus not to come to work. Employers can do this if they’re acting reasonably and based on factual information about health and safety risks, which includes relying on the Australian Government’s health and quarantine guidelines. 

If an employee needs to look after a family member or a member of their household who is sick with COVID-19 or who needs care or support because of an unexpected emergency, they are entitled to take paid carer’s leave. If a permanent employee does not have accrued leave available, they are entitled to two days of unpaid carers leave per occasion. 

Casual employees are entitled to two days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion. 

Employers should consider their obligations under any applicable enterprise agreement, award, employment contract or workplace policies, which may be more generous. 

An employee must give their employee reasonable evidence of the illness or unexpected emergency if their employer asks for it.

Under the Fair Work Act, an employee is protected from being dismissed because of their temporary absence due to illness or injury.