The information contained in this article is correct at the time of writing (19 October 2020).

Earlier this year, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) varied most modern awards to insert a new schedule titled Schedule X-Additional Measures During the COVID-19 Pandemic (Schedule X) providing an entitlement for employees to take up to 14 days unpaid pandemic leave if they are required to self-isolate or are otherwise unable to work due to measures taken by the government or medical authorities in response to COVID-19. Schedule X also provided an ability for employees to take annual leave at half pay with their employer’s agreement. These flexibilities have been extended until 29 March 2021 in recognition of the difficulties that many employers continue to face due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unpaid pandemic leave

Employees who are employed under one of the awards containing Schedule X can access to up to 14 days (or more by agreement with the employer) of unpaid leave if they are unable to work due to a requirement to self-isolate, or other measures taken by the government or medical authorities in response to the pandemic, such as a direction to close or restrict business operations.

This entitlement does not need to be accrued and is immediately available to full-time, part-time and casual employees. Other paid leave entitlements such as personal/carer’s leave do not need to be exhausted before employees can access unpaid pandemic leave.

Notice and evidence requirements

Employees are required to notify their employer as soon as possible (which may be a time after the leave has started) that they are going to take unpaid pandemic leave and specify the reason and must provide evidence if required by their employer.

Annual leave at half pay

Clause X.2.2 allows an employee to take twice as much annual leave at half pay, by agreement with their employer.

For example, instead of an employee taking one week’s annual leave on full pay, the employee and their employer may agree to the employee taking two weeks’ annual leave on half pay.

One week of annual leave would be deducted from the employee’s annual leave accrual and personal/carer’s leave and annual leave will accrue as normal i.e. as if the employee is on full pay.

Workplace right

Employees have a workplace right to take unpaid pandemic leave or annual leave at half pay. Employers must not take adverse action against an employee because they have a workplace right or because they have exercised or propose to exercise a workplace right.

Which awards have had the schedule extended until 29 March 2021?

The modern awards in which the schedule has been extended until 29 March 2021 are in Attachment A of the FWC’s decision.

Where to find more information

Fair Work Ombudsman – Unpaid pandemic leave & annual leave changes to awards

Further advice or assistance

For further advice or assistance on this topic or any other workplace relations matter, contact the Ai Group Workplace Advice Line.

Call 1300 862 217 8.30am – 5.15pm AEST Mon-Fri