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Workplace Entitlements With The Outbreak Of Coronavirus

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The following outlines your workplace entitlements and obligations if you're affected by the outbreak of coronavirus.

Your workplace should collaborate with you to find appropriate solutions that suit the needs of you and all staff. This may include taking different forms of leave, working from home, or taking extra precautions in your workplace. 

When can employees be stood down without pay?

Employers and employees are encouraged to work together to find appropriate solutions that suit the needs of individual workplaces and staff. Employees who are stood down without pay remain employed for the period of the stand down.

Under the Fair Work Act, an employee can only be stood down without pay if they cannot be usefully employed because of a stoppage of work for any cause for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible.

Whether the option of standing down employees is available in circumstances relating to coronavirus is very fact dependent and an employer should exercise the option cautiously. The employer must be able to demonstrate that:

  • there is a stoppage of work
  • the employees to be stood down cannot be usefully employed (which is not limited to the work an employee usually performs)
  • the cause of the stoppage must also be one that the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible for.
  • If an employer unlawfully stands down employees without pay, the employees will likely be able to recover unpaid wages.

Employers cannot generally stand down employees simply because of a deterioration of business conditions or because an employee has coronavirus.

Some examples of when employers may be able to stand down employees include:

  • if there was an enforceable government direction requiring the business to close (which means there is no work at all for the employees to do, even from another location)
  • if a large proportion of the workforce was required to self-quarantine with the result that the remaining employees/workforce cannot usefully be employed
  • if there was a stoppage of work due to lack of supply for which the employer could not be held responsible.

What happens if you or your family member is sick with coronavirus?

If you are sick with the coronavirus you cannot attend your workplace for a period due to the workplace health and safety legal obligations that you and your employer has. 

Your employer can direct you if you are sick with the coronavirus not to come to work and to get medical clearance from a doctor before returning to work. Your employer 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 you are full-time or part-time and you cannot come to work because you are sick with coronavirus, you can take paid sick leave. If you need to look after a family member or a member of your household who is sick with coronavirus, or suffering an unexpected emergency, you are entitled to take paid carer’s leave. Your employer cannot require you to take sick or carer’s leave. However, in these circumstances, you are not entitled to be paid unless you use your paid leave entitlements.

Under the Fair Work Act, if you are a casual you are entitled to 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion. If you are full-time and part-time you can take unpaid carer’s leave if you have no paid sick or carer’s leave left. Your employer should consider their obligations under the Children's Services Award 2010 or the Educational Teachers Services Award 2010. 

You must give your employer evidence of the illness or unexpected emergency if your employer asks for it. This will also apply to situations relating to coronavirus.

Under the Fair Work Act, you are protected from being dismissed because of your temporary absence due to illness or injury.

What if I am stuck overseas or I'm required to be quarantined or to self-isolate?

You should contact your employer immediately if you are unable to attend work because you cannot return from overseas, are required to enter quarantine or to self-isolate because of the coronavirus.

You can find up-to-date information on quarantine requirements on the Department of Health’s website.

The Fair Work Act does not have specific rules for these kinds of situations so you and your employer need to come to your own arrangement. This may include:

  • working from home or another location (if this is a practical option)
  • taking sick leave if you are sick
  • taking annual leave
  • taking any other leave available to you (such as long service leave or any other leave available under your Award.
  • arranging any other paid or unpaid leave by agreement between you and your employer.

Where your employer directs you (full-time or part-time) to stay home in line with the Australian Government’s health and quarantine advice, and you're not sick with coronavirus, you should ordinarily be paid while the direction applies. Your employer should consider whether their obligations are impacted by the Award. 

If you cannot work due to travel restrictions (for example, you are stuck overseas), you are not entitled to be paid (unless you use paid leave entitlements). Again, your employer should consider whether their obligations are impacted under the Award.

What if you want to stay home as a precaution?

If you want to stay at home as a precaution you need to come to an arrangement with your employer that best suits your workplace, such as making a request to work from home (if this is a practical option) or to take some form of paid or unpaid leave, such as annual leave or long service leave. Normal leave application processes in the workplace apply. If you do not enter into an arrangement using paid leave, you are not entitled to payment in these circumstances. You can find information on quarantine requirements on the Australian Government Department of Health’s website. 

You are encouraged to discuss the level of risk of contracting coronavirus with your doctor, workplace health and safety representative or the appropriate Commonwealth, State or Territory workplace health and safety body.

What if your employer wants you and all employees to stay home as a precaution?

Under workplace health and safety laws, your employer must ensure the health and safety of you and all staff and others at the workplace as far as is reasonably practicable. 

If you are at risk of infection from coronavirus (for example, because you've recently travelled through mainland China, Iran, the Republic of Korea or Italy, or have been in close contact with someone who has the virus), your employer should request that you seek medical clearance from a doctor and work from home. or not work during the risk period. You can be directed to obtain medical clearance, which may include being tested for coronavirus, provided this is reasonable and based on factual information about health and safety risks.

Where your employer directs you (full-time or part-time) not to work due to workplace health and safety risks but you are ready, willing and able to work, you are generally entitled to be paid while the direction applies. Your employer should consider whether their obligations are impacted by the Award.

Under the Fair Work Act, you can only be stood down without pay if you cannot be usefully employed because of equipment break down, industrial action or a stoppage of work for which your employer cannot be held responsible. The most common scenarios are severe and inclement weather or natural disasters.

Being stood down by your employer without pay is not generally available due to a deterioration of business conditions or because an employee has the coronavirus. Your employer is not required to make payments to you for the period of a stand-down but may choose to do so.

Can employees be directed not to travel?

Your employer can direct you not to undertake work-related travel if this is necessary to meet workplace health and safety obligations or is otherwise a lawful and reasonable direction.

Your employer is unlikely to be able to direct you not to undertake private travel.

Please visit the Australian Government Department of Health website for the latest information on the virus, including requirements and conditions for isolation and quarantine periods and when testing should be sought.

For more detailed information, please read the following: Coronavirus Australia Workplace Laws

Disclaimer: The information was correct at the time of publishing. Updated on 24 March 2020

Last modified on Wednesday, March 25, 2020
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