Who has access to pandemic leave and what does it offer?
If you are unable to go to work due to coronavirus-related self-isolation or quarantine, there may be some financial support options available to you.
As the number of Australian cases continues to fluctuate, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Victoria to extend its state of emergency while other states are working to contain various clusters and outbreaks. In an effort to contain virus transmission, various government and health official directives require people to self-isolate immediately and get tested for the virus as soon as possible.
This can prove difficult, however, for those who cannot work from home or who don’t have access to leave benefits. In response to this, the national and state governments have been working to encourage immediate self-isolation and quick-response testing with various leave options, and have been imposing fines on those who don’t comply with the rules. A variety of paid and unpaid pandemic leave options have been introduced, which vary across the different states and employment industries of Australia.
Here is a guide to some of the paid and unpaid leave options that are currently available to Australians impacted by COVID-19.
What is pandemic leave?
Pandemic leave provides some extra time off work to allow employees to isolate themselves and get tested for the coronavirus as needed, to help avoid the transmission of the virus in workplaces and the community in general. Pandemic leave, depending on which state you live in and your occupation, may be paid or unpaid.
Some of the paid pandemic leave available at the moment is a lump-sum payment from the government to cover you for the standard 14-day quarantine period, while other options operate like ordinary paid sick leave.
Some businesses have also introduced specific pandemic leave for their workers. For instance, back in March the Commonwealth Bank, Woolworths and Telstra all introduced paid pandemic leave for casual workers who would typically not be entitled to paid sick leave of any kind.
What pandemic leave support can people get right now?
At the time of writing, there are a range of pandemic leave options depending on where you live, your individual circumstances and the industry you work in. Some of these options include unpaid pandemic leave, a lump-sum disaster payment for Victorians, South Australians and Tasmanians and paid leave for some aged care workers who are covered by specific awards.
Unpaid pandemic leave
Earlier in 2020, the Fair Work Commission made changes to a number of awards to provide eligible employees with access to unpaid pandemic leave. Temporary variations were made to 99 awards to include two weeks of unpaid pandemic leave and greater flexibility for annual leave until a specified date (the exact date varies across different awards). This may include taking twice as much annual leave at half the normal rate if your employer agrees, for example. If you’re eligible for it, the unpaid pandemic leave is available immediately without needing to be accrued and can be accessed even if you have paid leave available.
Generally, employees who are covered by one of the affected awards are able to access two weeks of unpaid pandemic leave if they are unable to work due to:
Quarantine or self-isolation measures
Measures taken by the government or medical authorities in response to the coronavirus, for example the closure of non-essential businesses
It is important to note that the provisions differ for each award and, while the end date of many of the provisions has been extended, some awards may no longer provide unpaid pandemic leave or flexible annual leave. A list of awards where unpaid pandemic leave or Schedule X no longer applies can be found on the Fair Work Ombudsman website.
Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment for Victorians
The Australian Government has announced a new Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, which will replace the Victorian Government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Worker Support Payment. The lump-sum payment is intended to help Victorians who are unable to earn an income due to quarantine, self-isolation or caring for someone with the coronavirus. At this stage, the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment is only available in Victoria as it is currently in a state of disaster.
What does it offer?
The lump-sum payment is designed to help Victorians financially during quarantine, who may receive $1,500 for each 14-day period they are required to self-isolate from 5 July. As 14 days is the recommended quarantine time, you must make a new claim for each new 14-day period. Services Australia recommends checking its payment guide if you require longer-term financial assistance.
Who has access?
To be eligible for the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment you must:
Be at least 17 years old
Be an Australian citizen or hold a visa giving you the right to work in Australia
Live in Victoria
Be unable to go to work
Have your 14-day quarantine period or caring on or after 5 July, 2020
Have no income from paid work, including sick leave, personal leave or carer’s leave entitlements
In addition to this, you must also be required to quarantine or self-isolate by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services for the following reasons:
You have, or have been in close contact with someone who has, COVID-19
You care for a child under 16 years who has COVID-19 or has been in close contact with someone who has it
If you are required to self-isolate more than once, you may be able to claim the payment for each 14-day period. Additionally, if you are in a couple, you may both be entitled to receive a payment, provided that you make separate claims.
Who doesn’t have access?
Services Australia emphasises the fact that Victorians who are required to stay home due to Stage 3 and 4 restrictions won’t necessarily meet the eligibility criteria.
You may also not be entitled to receive a Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment if you are already receiving another form of income or government assistance. This may include:
any income, earnings or salary from paid work
any income support payments, ABSTUDY Living Allowance, Paid Parental Leave or Dad and Partner Pay
the JobKeeper payment
the Victorian Coronavirus (COVID-19) Worker Support Payment.
How can you claim the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment?
If you think you may be eligible for a pandemic leave payment, you are able to claim it over the phone by ringing Services Australia on 180 22 66 – Services Australia asks that you avoid visiting a service centre. According to Services Australia, its phone lines in Victoria are open from 8am until 8pm Monday to Friday.
You have until 4 February, 2021 to make a claim, however, it is your responsibility to make a claim based on your own circumstances and to make sure that the information you provide is correct.
$450 Coronavirus (COVID-19) Test Isolation Payment
If you have been tested for COVID-19 and are required to isolate while you wait for the results, you may be eligible for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Test Isolation Payment in Victoria. Initially the payment was $300, however it was increased to $450 in mid-August.
What does it offer?
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Test Isolation Payment is a lump-sum payment of $450 available to Victorian workers who are in self-isolation or quarantine while waiting for their test results. It is to encourage people to isolate immediately and avoid the transmission of the virus through the workplace.
You can only receive one of these payments within a 30-day period, unless you have been directed to get tested more than once by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.
Who has access?
You may be eligible to receive the test isolation payment if you meet the eligibility requirements, which include that you must be unable to work or earn money because you are awaiting test results and are also not receiving any other form of income or government assistance. You may not be eligible to receive the payment if you have other sick leave or carer’s leave entitlements.
If you do not self-isolate while waiting for your COVID-19 test results, you will be required to repay the $450.
How can you claim the Test Isolation Payment?
You can apply for the Test Isolation Payment via the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions website or over the phone.
South Australia paid pandemic and coronavirus testing leave
South Australia has also announced that it will provide lump-sum payments of up to $1,500 for eligible workers who are unable to work due to quarantine or self-isolation measures.
To be eligible for paid pandemic leave in South Australia, you must be a casual, full-time or part-time employee who has been unable to work due to self-isolation measures. You must also:
be least 17 years old
be a citizen, permanent resident or hold a necessary visa or work permit
not already be receiving government assistance, such as JobKeper or JobSeeker
have no available paid leave entitlements.
The payment is not available to people who have returned from overseas or interstate and had to enter quarantine for 14 days.
A separate upfront ‘testing’ payment of $300 will also be available for eligible workers in an identified COVID-19 cluster who are self-isolating while waiting for results from coronavirus testing.
Both payments may also be available to people who are caring for someone who is in quarantine or is awaiting results.
Tasmania pandemic leave disaster payment
Eligible Tasmanians who are unable to earn an income while self-isolating may also be able to access a $1,5000 lump-sum payment to provide financial support during the 14-day quarantine period. This payment replaces the Tasmanian Pandemic Isolation Payment.
To be eligible, the quarantine or self-isolation must be under the directions of a health official. This includes a person who is employed by a state or regional department of health, a registered GP or a nurse doctor or registrar at a hospital.
According to Services Australia, you must also meet the following requirements:
you’re at least 17 years old and live in Tasmania
you’re an Australian resident or hold a visa that gives you the right to work in Australia
you’re unable to go to work and earn an income
you have no sick leave entitlements, including pandemic sick leave, personal leave or leave to care for another person.
If you are in a couple, you can both receive the payment however you must make separate claims. You are entitled to the full $1,500 sum as long as you are eligible for a minimum of one day during the 14 day period.
If you think that you satisfy the above criteria, you can claim the pandemic leave disaster payment in Tasmania by calling Services Australia on on 180 22 66 between the hours of 8 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday.
Paid pandemic leave for aged care workers
If you are an eligible residential aged care employee, you may have access to paid pandemic leave in some awards. A temporary new Schedule Y issued by the Fair Work Commission provides support to those covered by the Aged Care Award, Nurses Award and Health Services Award who work in the aged care industry.
What does it offer?
Schedule Y offers eligible employees up to two weeks of paid pandemic leave if they can’t go to work or work from home for a coronavirus-related reason. These reasons may include being required to self-isolate or quarantine, awaiting test results or showing symptoms of coronavirus, among other things.
Who has access?
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, Schedule Y applies to employers and employees who are:
covered by the Aged Care Award
covered by the Nurses Award and working in the aged care industry
covered by the Health Services Award and working in the aged care industry.
It may be available to full-time and part-time employees, as well as casual employees who are employed on a regular basis.
Employees may not be entitled to paid leave under Schedule Y if they are already entitled to other paid sick or carer’s leave or worker’s compensation benefits. The leave needs to start before 29 October 2020, and you are required to be tested for coronavirus each time you apply. If you refuse to get tested or don’t agree to get tested as soon as you can, you may not be entitled to take paid leave.
How can you claim paid pandemic leave if you work in aged care?
Those who are eligible may access Paid Pandemic Leave through their employer or place of work. Employees must let their employer know that they plan to take pandemic leave and their reasoning as soon as possible, the Fair Work Ombudsman says.
So what next?
As the coronavirus situation continues to change regularly, so too does the government response and directives from health officials. Your best bet is to regularly check with official sources such as your state government, the Fair Work Ombudsman and Services Australia to see what pandemic leave options are available to you, as well as the ones which may no longer be in effect.
If you are looking for further financial support specific to coronavirus, you might also be interested in: