Fair Work Commission (FWC) Introduces Pandemic Leave

Fair Work Commission (FWC) Introduces Pandemic Leave

The current crisis has left many questions for employers and employees who can’t go to work. Whether due to quarantine or self-isolation, many employees cannot be at work. In turn, many employers have been unsure as what type of leave applies. To combat this, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has introduced ‘Pandemic leave’. Pandemic leave introduces an extra option for businesses who have employees exposed to COVID-19 or who have recently travelled overseas. To do this, a number of Modern Awards have been amended.

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How does Pandemic leave work?

Employees who need to go into quarantine or self-isolate have faced issues in taking leave. So far, many employers have offered this time off as forced annual leave. Employers have also previously been able to refuse the requests of employees to take this time off. This is despite the Government legally requiring them to. Circumstances are such that paid sick leave isn’t exactly applicable either for employees who need to self-isolate or go into quarantine. For employees who need to take time off due to COVID-19, pandemic leave will will work in the following ways:

  • Employees can take 2 weeks of unpaid leave (geared towards employees who need to go into quarantine or self-isolate)
  • Annual leave can be taken at half-pay, for double the amount of time (this might be a good option for businesses which have been forced to temporarily close as an alternative to standing down employees)

Employees can only take pandemic leave once and by the person who needs to go into isolation or quarantine. These measures will apply until the end of June, however this may be extended.

How businesses can introduce pandemic leave

Your workplace policies should cover emergencies and how you plan to deal with unforeseen events. You can also amend your leave policy to account for emergency provisions such as pandemic leave. It’s important to note that even if your employees have an employment contact, they will still be eligible if they come under a National Award. Further, it is highly likely that your employee will be covered as the changes will apply to 103 National Awards including the hospitality, restaurant, retail and clerical awards. Although the changes have only been passed for 3 awards, it is expected the rest will follow in the coming days.

Pandemic leave and JobKeeper payments

Employees who will receive wages through the JobKeeper scheme are able to take pandemic leave. However, when it comes to workers taking the 2 weeks of unpaid leave, it is it yet to be clarified by the Government whether the employee would still receive JobKeeper payments. In fact, the FWC has expressed concerns that if employees taking pandemic leave were unable to receive JobKeeper payments, this may deter employees from taking leave in circumstances where they should. Despite this, pandemic leave will provide an sufficient alternative for employees who should not be at work.

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