Published 22 June 2020 | Updated 11 October 2021
Employees may be able to take sick and carer’s leave if they have coronavirus or need to care for family or household members.
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Employers should also consider their obligations under any award, enterprise agreement, employment contract or workplace policy, which could include extra rules about sick and carer’s leave.
Employers and employees have legal obligations to support workplace health and safety. Because of these obligations, employees who have coronavirus can’t attend the workplace.
Employers can direct employees not to come to work
Employers can direct employees who are sick with coronavirus not to come to work. Employers can do this if they’re acting reasonably and based on factual information about health and safety risks. This includes relying on the Australian Government’s health and quarantine guidelines.
If an employer has directed an employee not to attend work in these circumstances, the employee isn't entitled to be paid unless they take paid sick leave or some other type of paid leave.
Paid sick leave
Full-time and part-time employees can take paid sick leave if they can’t work because they're sick with coronavirus. If they have no paid sick leave left, they can take unpaid sick leave.
An employer can’t require an employee to use their accumulated sick or carer’s leave. Learn more about the rules that apply at Paid sick and carer’s leave.
Find out about sick leave entitlements during quarantine or self-isolation at Quarantine and self-isolation: pay and leave options.
Under the Fair Work Act, an employee is protected from losing their job because of their temporary absence due to illness or injury. See Long periods of sick leave.
Employees also can’t be dismissed or injured in their employment because they have a responsibility under a workplace health and safety law to quarantine or self-isolate. Go to Protections at work to learn more.
Notice and medical certificates
An employee needs to give their employer reasonable evidence that they aren’t fit for work if their employer asks for it. This also applies to situations relating to coronavirus. See Notice and medical certificates.
Example: Taking sick leave because of coronavirus
Marisa is a bus driver. She gets coronavirus. A government direction requires her to quarantine at home.
Marisa has accrued enough sick leave to cover the time she needs to be off work. Her employer, a bus company, asks her for a medical certificate as evidence that she can’t work because she’s sick. She gives the certificate with her sick leave application. She stays at home until she is better and can return to work.
- Paid sick and carer’s leave
- Quarantine and self-isolation: pay and leave options
- Protections at work
Employees can take carer’s leave (paid or unpaid) if they need to look after a family or household member who's sick with coronavirus or affected by an unexpected emergency.
Paid carer’s leave
Paid carer’s leave is available to full-time and part-time employees when they need to look after a family member or a member of their household who needs care or support because of a personal illness, injury or an unexpected emergency. See Paid sick and carer’s leave for details.
Unpaid carer’s leave
Casual employees are entitled to 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave per occasion. Full-time and part-time employees can take unpaid carer’s leave if they have no paid sick or carer’s leave left. See Unpaid carer’s leave.
An unexpected emergency is an unforeseen or sudden and urgent event or situation. Whether an employee can take carer’s leave because of an unexpected emergency depends on the circumstances. Things to consider might include:
- how much notice, if any, the employee had of the emergency
- any public health orders in place that affect caring arrangements
- whether the employee can work from home or use other alternative work arrangements (such as changing their pattern of work to help manage their work and caring responsibilities)
- the age and independence of the family member or household member who needs care
- whether the employee can make alternative arrangements to care for the family or household member.
Any alternative work arrangements need to be consistent with the employee’s terms and conditions of employment. This includes any award or enterprise agreement that applies. An award or agreement could include rules about changing rosters or hours and penalty rates for working outside the normal span of hours.
Employees can’t be required to reduce their hours or to work flexible hours that involve, for example, catching up on work when their child is asleep, as an alternative to taking carer’s leave.
An employee has to give their employer reasonable evidence of the unexpected emergency if their employer asks for it. This also applies to situations relating to coronavirus.
Example: Employee needs to care for a child during childcare centre closure
Alastor has just received an email from his daughter’s childcare centre. They let him know that the centre is closing immediately for 48 hours. This is because a child at the centre has tested positive to coronavirus. Alastor immediately contacts his employer. He tells them he'll need to stay at home during the closure to care for his daughter.
They discuss whether he could work from home. They decide that, given Alastor needs to actively care for his daughter, he is unable to work at his normal capacity.
Alastor's employer lets him know that he can take paid carer’s leave. This is because the closure of the childcare centre on short notice is an unexpected emergency. Alastor forwards the email from the childcare centre to his employer as evidence.
Where an employee can’t take paid or unpaid carer’s leave, they should discuss their situation and other options with their employer. This could include:
Find more information at Quarantine and self-isolation: pay and leave options.
For more information about workplace entitlements during temporary lockdowns, visit When workplaces shut quickly because of a lockdown.
Casual employees and sick/carer’s leave
Casual employees aren’t entitled to paid sick or carer’s leave under the National Employment Standards. Casual employees are paid a casual loading instead of accumulating paid leave entitlements.
Casuals who get sick with coronavirus may be eligible for unpaid pandemic leave.
Casuals who need to care for an immediate family member or household member who is sick with coronavirus can take 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave on each occasion.
Some states are also providing one-off hardship payments to employees who don’t have access to paid sick leave and can’t work for reasons relating to coronavirus. See below for more information.
Example: Casual employee required to self-isolate
Riley is a casual kitchenhand covered by the Hospitality Award. Riley’s sister has been diagnosed with coronavirus and, as a member of the household, he’s required to self-isolate for 2 weeks.
Riley talks to his employer about his situation. He’s not entitled to paid sick leave because he’s a casual. Instead, Riley takes unpaid pandemic leave, which is available to him as a casual under the Hospitality Award.
Outworkers and sick/carer’s leave entitlements
Outworkers in the textile, clothing and footwear industry are considered to be employees for the purposes of most protections under the Fair Work Act. Where these provisions apply, the contract outworker should be treated as an employee, which means they can be entitled to paid sick and carer’s leave. Find help for Outworkers.
Independent contractors and sick/carer’s leave entitlements
Independent contractors aren’t employees. They don't have paid leave entitlements under the Fair Work Act. Find help for Independent contractors.
Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment
The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment is available to eligible workers who don’t have appropriate leave entitlements and can’t earn an income because they:
- have to self-isolate or quarantine due to a positive coronavirus case, or
- are caring for someone with coronavirus.
For more information about the payment, eligibility requirements and how to claim it, visit Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment on Services Australia's website.
COVID-19 hardship payments
Some Australian states and territories are also providing hardship payments for certain workers during the pandemic. Eligible workers include those who don’t have access to certain paid leave entitlements and can’t work because they are waiting for coronavirus test results. Go to:
- ACT COVID-19 Hardship Isolation Payment – for information and to check eligibility in the ACT
- NSW COVID-19 Test and Isolate support payment – for information and to check eligibility in New South Wales
- SA COVID-19 Cluster Isolation Payment – for information and to check eligibility in South Australia
- Tasmania Pandemic Isolation Assistance Grants – for information and to check eligibility in Tasmania
- Victoria Coronavirus (COVID-19) Test Isolation Payment – for information and to check eligibility in Victoria.