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Employee entitlements in emergencies

Hi Bare Bones Consulting. Are you able to provide advice around employee entitlements in emergencies such as the recent floods?

Hey there and thanks for your question…I know many workplaces and individuals are currently affected by the flooding across Queensland and New South Wales and I’ve fielded questions on this topic a few times this week!

When it comes to time away from work, there are several paid and unpaid leave entitlements employees may be able to access if they are affected by the floods or to assist with emergency management activities. These include: 

  • Annual leave
  • Sick and carer’s leave
  • Community services leave
  • Defence Reservists

Minimum entitlements to annual leave, sick and carer’s leave and community service leave come from the National Employment Standards (NES). Common Law contracts of employment often used by employers cannot offer less than the minimum defined in the NES…although nothing stops an employer offering more than the minimum in their Contracts.

Let’s check out 3 common employee entitlements:

  1. Annual Leave

Annual leave can be taken at any time by agreement between the employer and employee. An employer can only refuse a request for annual leave if the refusal is reasonable.

It’s not uncommon in emergency situations for an employer and employee to agree for the employee to access annual leave for time away from work.

In certain cases, an employer may be able to direct an employee to take annual leave – such rights are typically set out in the applicable award or registered agreement covering the employee’s position. 

     2. Sick and carer’s leave

As a rule, employees (other than casual employees) can take paid sick leave when they can’t work because of a personal illness or injury.

Employees affected by a natural disaster or emergency may be entitled to take paid sick and carer’s leave. An employee injured during a flood for example, may be entitled to sick leave.

An employee can take paid carer’s leave to care for or support a member of their immediate family or household who is sick, injured or has an unexpected emergency. A good example? An employee may be able to take carer’s leave if their child’s school closes unexpectedly due to a flood.

     3. Unpaid carer’s leave

Employees get 2 days unpaid carer’s leave each time an immediate family member or household member of the employee needs care and support because of:

  • illness
  • injury or
  • an unexpected emergency.

Full-time and part-time employees can only get unpaid carer’s leave if they don’t have any paid sick / carer’s leave left.

Bottom line

Best practice employers demonstrate empathy and flexibility to their workers’ individual circumstances when it comes to selecting the most appropriate employee entitlements in emergencies. As well annual leave and sick and carer’s leave entitlements there is also working from home and unpaid leave options that an employer might offer…all depending on the situation at hand. 

Detailed information on leave entitlements are available from the Fair Work Ombudsman webpage here.

Stay safe out there and remember….now is the time for workplace flexibility. Employee engagement skyrockets when you make things as easy as possible for your team when when their own circumstances are challenging for them!

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Note: Bare Bones Consulting provides HR services for employers. Employees seeking advice on workplace concerns should contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.