As the majority of Australia has switched to a policy of ‘letting COVID rip’, more employees are now isolating with COVID as a patient or close contact than ever before. Consequently, more employees are relying on their annual or sick leave entitlements to ensure they’re getting paid while in isolation. This article summarises the most up-to-date legislation governing employee leave when isolating because of COVID.
What to do when an employee has tested positive to COVID
If an employee has received a positive COVID test result, either from a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) or a PCR, the employee will be able to use any accrued personal/carer’s leave during this time. An employer reserves the right to request evidence of this positive test result – this may include a medical certificate or a text message or notification of a positive result.
If the employee does not have sufficient leave accrued to cover the time off, it will be treated as leave without pay. In this instance, the employee is able to request to use their available annual leave and employers are expected to agree.
What to do when an employee is unable to work because they’re waiting for a PCR test result
If your employee is waiting for a PCR test result because they are a close contact, the period of absence should be treated as leave without pay or alternatively, the employee may request to use accrued annual leave.
If your employee is unwell and waiting for their PCR test result, they are able to use their accrued personal/carer’s leave. If you have requested your employee to be tested and isolate while awaiting their result, they are entitled to receive their ordinary pay during this time.
What to do when your employee is required to isolate as a close contact
If an employee is a close contact of an infected person and as such is required to isolate, the period of isolation should be treated as leave without pay or taken as annual leave if requested by the employee.
The exception to this is if an employee becomes unwell or receives a positive result while isolating. As the employee is unwell and therefore unable to work, they are entitled to access their accrued personal/carer’s leave. In circumstances where an employee is isolating and is not unwell or remains negative, an employer may use their discretion and allow the employee to work from home.
What to do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19 while on annual leave
At the request of the employee, the period from when they test positive may become personal/carer’s leave. The employer may request evidence before they approve this change.
What happens next?
The rules governing employee leave when isolating because of COVID are ever evolving and employers are urged to remain informed at all times. If you need clarification on anything or have a situation different from those explained here, contact Fair Work Australia for more information.
To learn more about access to other government payments to those unable to work because of COVID, you can learn more here.