Navigating Employee Leave in the COVID World

For Victorian businesses which are still open, staff leave entitlements have become a little more confusing in recent times.

There is still some confusion about what leave staff are entitled to, how employees can get through if they have no leave, and how businesses may pragmatically manage both the spirit and letter of leave entitlements. It is also worthwhile to spend a minute or two considering how businesses may be able to give their employees a helping hand through difficult times, either through additional support or making sure that they and their employees are aware of additional government assistance covering some leave scenarios.

Personal/Carer Leave

Historically, permanent employees could take personal/carer’s leave if they, or an immediate family or household member were sick, injured or had an unexpected emergency. As the pandemic hit, it was quickly recognised that this type of leave was not appropriate for employees who were not sick but could not attend work due to a government directive to isolate.

Unpaid Pandemic Leave

For this reason unpaid pandemic leave was inserted into a wide range of Fair Work modern awards. Depending on the award, different end dates to this leave applied or still apply. For those awards where the leave is still current, it allows employees to be absent for up to 2 weeks where government pandemic-related directives require it.

The leave is available in full – in other words, it does not need to be accrued. The leave fills the gap where an employee is not sick, does not have or want to use annual leave, but still needs to be away from work due to pandemic-related government directives.

Although this leave is convenient and provides both employers and employees alike with a clear set of rules as to how to manage this type of absence, it does not entitle the employee to payment. This can be problematic for employees trying to make ends meet.

COVID-19 Test Isolation Payment and Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment

For this reason, the Victorian state government and federal government have introduced supplementary payments for employees where they cannot access paid leave or a range of other financial supplements (e.g. Jobkeeper, study supplements etc).

Where a Victorian worker is required to isolate while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test, a $450 COVID-19 Test Isolation Payment is currently available.

Alternatively, Victorians can access a $1500 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment support payment through the federal government where the employee has COVID-19 or has been in close contact with a person with COVID-19, or are caring for someone 16 years and under experiencing the same situation.

These payments are potentially available on multiple occasions if the employee is unfortunate enough to need to be tested for or isolate due to COVID-19. There are a number of conditions on these two payments, but many employees will qualify for these payments if they are receiving no other financial support.

Developing a proactive leave policy

Despite the above, it is highly recommended that employers proactively develop an equitable and sustainable leave policy for the duration of the pandemic. Often the worst time to be making decisions on leave is in the heat of the moment when an employee calls in unwell or as the result of another pandemic-related unavailability.

Where businesses can afford to provide more leave, it may be a smart choice to provide several days’ (or more) of paid pandemic leave, subject to various conditions such as having had a COVID-19 test or being directed by authorities to isolate.

It may also be advisable to consider additional personal/carer’s leave in the event existing balances are exhausted and a COVID-19-related illness occurs.

These policies should be reviewed regularly at set intervals and clearly communicated to staff as to their terms and duration of effect.

In the event that businesses cannot afford additional leave, it is also advisable to discuss how leave will be managed ongoing and the reasons why.

Knowing what types of leave are available, what additional financial support may also be accessible and making time to have a conversation with staff about this, may mean that leave considerations are not yet another headache in a difficult time. It may also contribute to your valued staff members being around in the future when this is all, thankfully, behind us.

Need further assistance?

If you’re seeking more advice on managing a medical practice throughout these unprecedented times, call Mark Amott on 0411 556 678 to arrange a no-obligation discussion on how MyPS can help your business.