As more and more people are getting the Covid-19 vaccination, many employers might be wondering what the rules are around paid leave in Australia.
- What are my obligations if an employee wants to get vaccinated during work hours?
- What if they’re sick from the side effects?
- Should they take annual leave?
- Or sick leave?
- What if they’re casuals?
Generally speaking, an employee is not entitled to take sick leave to get the Covid-19 vaccine.
In this article we will cover some common questions we’re getting from employers.
During Work Hours?
Unless you’re a workplace with an on-site vaccination clinic, the vast majority of Australians will probably need to factor in time to get the jab.
Not many appointment slots are available outside of standard work hours, and it may not be practical for some employees to get vaccinated outside of those time frames.
Employees are obviously able to request and take annual leave and unpaid leave to the extent that it’s available to them under their entitlements.
However, for employers who want to encourage their staff to get vaccinated, you might want to have other arrangements in place to make it easy for them to do so during work hours.
Can An Employee Take Sick Leave To Get Vaccinated?
Under the National Employment Standards or NES, all employees (other than casual employees) are entitled to sick leave (also known as personal leave or carer’s leave). We’ve also written about how many sick days an employee gets a year here.
However, sick leave under the NES is only available for employees who are not fit for work because of a personal illness or injury. There may be additional rules in a relevant award, enterprise agreement or an employment contract which include extra rules around sick leave. But generally speaking, an employee is not entitled to take sick leave to get the Covid-19 vaccine. That appears to be the view of the Fair Work Ombudsman as well.
If employees feel unwell after being vaccinated, they can take sick leave in the normal course.
What About Casual Employees?
Casual employees are not entitled to paid annual leave or paid sick leave, which means that there’s not much in terms of mandatory legal obligations on employers to provide casuals with paid time off work.
Being practical though, it’s important that you are mindful of these barriers (often economic) for your casual staff. If your business is in a sector with high customer contact, such as retail or hospitality, this might also be a workplace health and safety risk you should consider too.
Set out below are some other arrangements you can consider to make it easier for your staff to get the jab.
Flexible Work Arrangements
If an employee wants to take time off to receive a Covid-19 vaccination, employers can make certain arrangements to support their staff getting the jab.
For example, you might put in place some of these policies:
- flexible working arrangements to start work later or finishing later, to help employees attend vaccination appointments around work hours
- working from home to help employees attend a local vaccination appointment
Paid Vaccination Leave
Some higher profile Australian workplaces such as Westpac, local governments, NSW public service, and others, have been offering ‘special’ paid leave for employees to attend their Covid-19 vaccination appointments.
There have also been some calls for the government to introduce a National Scheme for Paid Vaccination Leave, however this will require legislative change and is unlikely to materialise without political will.
If you’re thinking of implementing paid vaccination leave for your own company, some factors to consider are:
- duration & frequency – Should it be 2 hours or half-day, should it be for each vaccination appointment?
- approval process – What should the process be for employees to request, and managers to approve, leave? For example, enabling managers to consider the reasonable business needs of their team, reasonable notice periods, etc.
- evidence – What sort of evidence do you require to approve leave and payment? Should there be evidence that the appointment is for a vaccine approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration?
This will all depend on the circumstances of your workplace and what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re not sure, you should get some legal advice to assess your options. You should also speak to other business owners and HR professionals as they’re likely to be going through the same issues as well.
Running a business has not been the easiest during the covid pandemic. If you need any assistance around navigating your employment contracts and leave entitlements, we have a team of lawyers to support you.
Some questions we can help you answer are:
- How should I go about providing ‘special’ paid leave to my employees?
- What might be the best type of leave to give employees in my business?
- How can I introduce flexible work arrangements for my employees?
Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 1800 730 617 for a free, no-obligations chat.
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