Aged Care Workers Set to Receive Paid Pandemic Leave: What Employers Need to Know

Published July 29, 2020 -
nurses working gets paid pandemic leave

Employers in the health and aged care sectors need to ensure they are complying with the likely new rules surrounding paid pandemic leave, according to Employsure, Australia’s largest workplace relations advisor.

Following a push by several unions, the Fair Work Commission is set to introduce two weeks of ‘paid’ leave for aged care industry workers covered under the aged care, nurses and health professional awards, each time they are required by the government, their employer or a doctor to self-isolate for the mandatory 14-day period due to being, or suspected of being, exposed to COVID-19, or displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

“It’s important that affected businesses know that they will bear the immediate cost of this scheme, and will need to prepare themselves accordingly,” said Employsure Managing Director Ed Mallett.

“Our healthcare workers have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, often working long shifts on very little sleep. This second wave of COVID-19 has shown how easy it is workers in this sector can be exposed to the virus, and their employers should take the correct steps to ensure it doesn’t spread further in their business.

“Employers will now need to make sure that if staff members are forced to stay home for that two-week period, that they’re continuing to pay them. Many who felt sick in the past carried on working for fear of losing money, and ultimately spread infection further.

“Now that paid pandemic leave is intended to act as a safety net for those employees, it is up to their employer to offer and meet their obligations around this new entitlement.”

‘Unpaid’ pandemic leave was added to 99 awards by the FWC at the start of April, allowing employees up to 2 weeks of unpaid leave if they’re prevented from working. Staff were also given the option to agree with their employer to take annual leave at half their usual pay for twice the length of time.

Mr Mallett has urged against paid pandemic leave being made available to workers in other sectors, fearing the cost burden to small businesses will prove too great.

“We’ve already seen a number of businesses go under due to COVID-19 closures. Some have been forced to shut because they simply no longer have the sustainable cash flow to run their business. Others have been left with a heavy debt as a result of paying out leave entitlements and redundancies to staff they can’t afford to keep on. Paid pandemic leave could push many of those businesses over the edge.

“The unpaid pandemic leave clause is not different to what we’ve already seen in the industry, and certainly hasn’t changed the cost base for small businesses.

“Our advice has been that if you don’t have work for your employees, or you otherwise need to reduce employee costs but don’t have a true stand down situation, then what you should do is enter into a negotiation with the employee to potentially go on unpaid leave, reduced hours, or a pay cut subject to minimum wage.

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