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Pandemic leave: Who gets it, how does it work and how can I claim it?

Now more than ever, being employed is something to be immensely grateful for.

For Australians who are in the fortunate position of still having a job while so many others have been left unemployed or made redundant due to COVID-19, the way we work hasn’t escaped change and uncertainty.

One such uncertainty is what happens if you’re unable to go to work or work from home because you’ve tested positive to coronavirus, have been forced to quarantine yourself for 14 days or have been strongly advised to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who’s been diagnosed with the virus.

This is where pandemic leave comes in – new proposed changes that will give workers the ability to take leave should they need to for COVID-19-related reasons. It sounds great, but what actually is pandemic leave and who can claim it?

Below, let’s break down everything you need to know about pandemic leave, including when you can start claiming it, who is eligible, and who isn’t.

WATCH: You can watch Fairwork announce the pandemic leave changes in the press conference video below. Post continues after video.

Video via ABC

What is pandemic leave?

Pandemic leave is a new form of unpaid leave.

It was proposed by the Fair Work Commission on Wednesday, April 1, to protect the rights of workers who need to miss work for the purpose of self-isolation. By doing so, the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces will also be limited, which will allow more businesses to stay open and employ staff.

How does pandemic leave work and why do we need it?

The proposed pandemic leave changes work by giving permanent and casual workers access to up to two weeks of unpaid leave, without having to wait for it to bank up. This leave is only to be used if you test positive to COVID-19 or are forced to self-isolate because you’ve recently returned from overseas or have come into contact with someone infected with the virus.

Workers with COVID-19 could also use paid sick leave to get them through, if they have any, but the purpose of pandemic leave is to stop the need for workers using paid annual leave should they be unable to work because of coronavirus.

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OK, makes sense. But why else do we need it?

The idea is to reduce the regulatory gap, a loophole found in current laws that means some employees do not have a legal right to self-isolate for two weeks if their employers deny their leave request. This includes workers who feel ‘fine’, but have been advised to isolate because they’ve come into contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Without these changes, bosses can say no to leave requests involving coronavirus. Pandemic leave will allow employees to take necessary leave without the risk of being fired for choosing to go against their boss.

Am I eligible to claim pandemic leave?

Currently, workers employed under 103 of 122 industrial awards (awards = industry bodies) will be able to claim pandemic leave.

The most common of these awards are:

  • Aged Care.
  • Air Pilots, Aircraft Cabin Crew, Airline Operations-Ground Staff and Airport Employees.
  • Ambulance and Patient Transport.
  • Animal Care and Veterinary Services.
  • Architects.
  • Banking, Finance and Insurance.
  • Children’s Services
  • Cleaning Services.
  • Corrections and Detention (Private Sector).
  • Educational Services (Post-Secondary Education), Educational Services (Schools) General Staff and Educational Services (Teachers).
  • Fast Food Industry, Registered and Licensed Clubs, Restaurant Industry
  • Fitness Industry.
  • Gardening and Landscaping Services.
  • General Retail Industry.
  • Hair and Beauty Industry.
  • Health Professionals and Support Services, Medical Practitioners, Nurses and Pharmacy Industry.
  • Hospitality Industry (General).
  • Journalists Published Media.
  • Legal Services.
  • Real Estate Industry.

Further changes have been made to three awards: Clerks, Hospitality and Restaurant. You can find out more detailed information about changes to those awards here.

You can see a full list of awards eligible in Phase 1 of this proposal here (scroll down to page 28, paragraph 108).

Who isn’t eligible for pandemic leave and what can’t you claim pandemic leave for?

Some awards covering workers in the construction, mining and maritime industries have been excluded from the first batch of awards to be changed. You can find the full list of awards not eligible in Phase 1 here (page 31, paragraph 109).

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Pandemic leave also can’t be claimed to provide time off work to care for someone else in isolation. It is only available to those who become infected or are forced to self-isolate.

When can I start claiming pandemic leave?

At the time of publishing, the pandemic leave proposal has not been passed through the commission’s process. Usually, changes like these could take decades to pass. But in these times, the process has been sped up. Those eligible will likely be able to access pandemic leave next week after Wednesday, April 8.

Employers and unions will be able to put forward their views on the proposed new entitlements at a hearing scheduled for April 8. If there is no opposition to the proposal, it will go through as is.

LISTEN: You can find out more about what COVID-19 financial benefits you’re entitled to in this episode of The Quicky podcast below. Post continues after audio.

How long will pandemic leave be available for?

According to Fairwork, the proposed variations will operate until June 30, 2020.

That said, Australia’s Attorney-General Christian Porter stated these will be available as long as the coronavirus pandemic is affecting Australian workers.

What about paid annual leave?

As a part of their pandemic leave proposal, the commission also put forward changes that would allow businesses to offer their workers twice their annual leave, at half the regular rate of pay. For example, if you’re eligible as per the conditions above and have six days of paid annual leave, you could stretch that out to 12 days.

To sum up: these pandemic leave changes are designed to a) protect workers who need to access leave because of coronavirus but might not have enough sick leave and/or paid annual leave, and b) help employers keep employees in a job.

For more information on the proposed new pandemic leave scheme, visit the Australian Government Fair Work Ombudsman’s dedicated coronavirus website.

Feature image: Getty.

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face. If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

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