In response to the COVID-19 pandemic the Fair Work Commission (Commission) introduced unpaid pandemic leave into 99 Modern Awards, to protect workers required to self-isolate as a result of being exposed to, or being infected with, COVID-19. The Commission has now introduced paid pandemic leave in response to the second-wave of infections in Victoria.
What is pandemic leave?
Unpaid pandemic leave has been in effect since 8 April 2020, and is available to employees who are prevented from working because:
(a) they are required to self-isolate due by government or medical authorities, or on the advice of a medical practitioner; or
(b) of measures taken by government authorities in response to the pandemic.
The leave is available to full time, part time and casual employees and they do not need to accrue it. Unpaid pandemic leave has been extended from its initial period of coverage and is currently in place until 30 September 2020 for most awards.
From 29 July 2020, and in response to the second-wave outbreak in Victoria and its concentration in residential aged care facilities, the Commission has introduced paid pandemic leave for employees in the health sector which will be in place for 3 months.
Paid pandemic leave will be available in place of unpaid pandemic leave to employees covered by the Nurses Award, the Health Professionals Award, and the Aged Care Award. However, only casual employees engaged on a regular and systemic basis will be covered. Paid pandemic leave covers the same situations as unpaid pandemic leave. However, unlike the unpaid pandemic leave, the new paid pandemic leave provisions specify that employees will be eligible if they are prevented from working because they are in isolation or quarantine while waiting for COVID-19 test results.
If employees become eligible for workers compensation benefits as a result of contracting COVID-19, they will not continue to be entitled to paid pandemic leave.
Why was pandemic leave introduced?
Generally, employees are protected from dismissal if they are on sick leave. However, prior to the introduction of pandemic leave there was a gap in the modern awards which meant employees were not protected from dismissal if they had not tested positive to COVID-19 or were not displaying any symptoms. Unpaid pandemic leave was initially introduced by the Commission to protect employees during the pandemic, and means that employees dismissed while on pandemic leave will be able to make an unfair dismissal application.
The recent introduction of paid pandemic leave demonstrates that the Commission is open to making changes to modern awards in the public interest, and which it considers necessary to protect workers and the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the last few months there have been a number of changes to Modern Awards in response to the pandemic and the Commission has indicated there may be further adjustments made to pandemic leave in other modern awards if required.
It’s important that you remain up to date with the changes to modern awards and how these may affect your employee’s entitlements. For more information about these changes and how these impact your employees, contact us here.