By Bethany Silverman

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has temporarily inserted a new Schedule into 99 modern awards, which allows for Pandemic Leave, and the ability for employees to take twice as much annual leave at half pay.

The Schedule will be in operation from 8 April 2020 until 30 June 2020.

What is Pandemic Leave?

Employees who are required by the Government, or medical authorities or acting on the advice of a medical practitioner to self-isolate, and is prevented from working (or is otherwise prevented from working by measures taken by the government of medical authorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic) will be entitled to take up to two weeks of unpaid leave.

Employees are required to give the employer notice of taking Pandemic Leave, including the reason for requiring the leave, as soon as practicable (this may be a time after the leave has started). Employers may require the employee to provide evidence which would satisfy a reasonable person that the leave is being taken for an authorised reason (as outlined above).

The period of leave must start before 30 June 2020 but may end after that date.

How does Pandemic Leave affect employees’ entitlements?

Accessing Pandemic Leave does not affect any other paid or unpaid leave entitlement for an employee. It also counts as service for the purposes of entitlements under the relevant Award and the National Employment Standards.

In addition, an employer and employee may agree on an employee taking more than two weeks of unpaid Pandemic Leave.

Annual Leave at half pay

The FWC has also implemented the ability for an employer and employee to agree on an employee taking twice as much leave on half-pay. For example, instead of an employee taking one week of annual leave on full pay, the employer and employee may agree to the employee taking two weeks of Annual Leave at half pay. In this case:

  • The employee’s pay for the two weeks of leave is the same as the pay the employee would have been entitled to for one week of leave on full pay; and
  • one week of leave is deducted from the employee’s Annual Leave accrual.

Annual Leave loading is still payable under the relevant award where an employer and employee agree to take Annual Leave at half pay.

Are all modern awards affected by these changes?

Not all modern awards are affected by these changes. In selecting the 99 awards to be included, the FWC had regard to:

  • the industries (and associated modern awards) that are likely to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the short and medium-term;
  • awards which have a significant proportion of award-reliant employees; and
  • awards with a high proportion of small businesses.

If you have any queries related to Pandemic Leave and employees taking annual leave at half-pay, please contact the Team at HR Assured.

Bethany Silverman is a qualified Workplace Relations Consultant at HR Assured. She regularly engages businesses in matters of compliance and best practice. She has a particular interest in the performance management process.