COVID-19 and caring responsibilities: which leave entitlement can be used and when?

March 30, 2020

With School holidays already upon us in some States and Territories, we’re considering the options for parents with children at home that may be impacted by the effects of COVID-19. 


Employees have access to various leave entitlements and all permanent employees do have access to paid personal/carer’s leave when caring for a family member or member of their household when they require care or support because of a personal illness or unexpected emergency.

Casual employees are entitled to two unpaid days personal/carer’s leave per occasion.

During this coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic there are a number of circumstances to consider, in order to determine whether an employee is eligible to use their personal/carer’s leave to care for their children. This may seem counterintuitive at first, however like all things during this time, the key is to have open and transparent conversations with your team members.

If a childcare centre has closed unexpectedly because someone from the childcare centre has tested positive for COVID-19, then this would be an unexpected emergency and in this situation the employee would have access to personal/carer’s leave.

Where an employee’s support network such as a grandparent can no longer assist with child minding, this in itself is not considered an unexpected emergency, although it does have a disruption on the way many households are currently operating.

It is important to differentiate scenarios, because each situation does result in needing to look at when different leave entitlements can be utilised.

An employer may also suggest to an employee that they could work from home, but this may be difficult with a young child and the employee may need to request to adjust their hours of work, or alternatively consider taking annual leave.

Urgent changes to some modern awards have already occurred due to COVID-19 which also means some employees can work different hours from home without being paid penalty rates. This can benefit all parties when trying to navigate uncertain times and ensure that work can still be completed.

The Private Clerks Award has a number of temporary changes due to COVID-19 including a change to the spread of ordinary hours for day workers. By agreement employees who are working from home can request to alter their hours, with the spread of ordinary hours now temporarily being from 6am to 11pm Monday to Friday and 7am to 12:30pm on Saturday.


School holidays are now upon us and what does that mean for parents and their access to leave?

School holidays are not considered an unexpected emergency or a personal illness so an employee would likely need to look at using their annual leave to care for their children, or discuss some sort of flexible arrangement with their employer (e.g. a flexible arrangement similar to the new temporary Private Clerks Award provisions).   

Once again, this all points to having open dialogue with your employer. No doubt, there are challenges for all parties involved, so genuine conversations need to be had in order for everyone to try to work through this period.

The leave an employee may take can also change midway. In the event an employee is utilising annual leave but the child in their care or they themselves become ill, then this may turn into personal/carer’s leave.

It is important that conversations are documented and records of any changes made are signed off and kept on an employee’s file. Working together is critical and down the track you may need to show the process you went through if challenged.

What everyone needs to keep in mind is that we are in a stressful period and this will be challenging for everyone involved. Communication between employers and employees must be ongoing, open and realistic.


Where we can help

If you have any concerns about leave entitlements for your employees during this difficult time, we can help you. 

Call us on 1300 1 OUR HR (1300 168 747) and let our dedicated team guide you through achieving a practical solution for your employees and your business. 

Working as a team has never been more important.


DISCLAIMER: This is not intended as legal advice but rather general information to assist employers with COVID-19. Each business and employee is different and needs to be assessed on their individual circumstances.