Jan 24th, 2022
The introduction of Schedule X to most modern Awards was made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It contained provisions concerning “Unpaid Pandemic Leave” as well as the ability for employees and employers to agree for annual leave to be taken at half pay. While it has lapsed under certain awards, such as the Clerks – Private Sector Award 2020, for many awards it was recently extended to be in effect until June 30, 2022.
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This recent extension has also included an amendment outlining that any leave taken as “unpaid pandemic leave” will count as service for the purposes of entitlements under the relevant award and the National Employment Standards. As such, an employee that takes unpaid pandemic leave will continue to accrue their paid annual and personal/carer’s leave entitlements during this time.
An employee can take unpaid pandemic leave as per the following:
"X.2.1 Unpaid pandemic leave
(a) Subject to clauses X.2.1(b),(c) and (d),any employee is entitled to take up to 2 weeks’unpaid leave if the employee is required by government or medical authorities or on the advice of a medical practitioner to self-isolate and is consequently prevented from working,or is otherwise prevented from working by measures taken by government or medical authorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic."
It is most applicable in the event an employee is deemed a close contact by state health authorities and they are required to isolate for a specified period of time. If an employee is not unfit for work, and has exhausted their annual leave or long service leave (if applicable) entitlements, they are entitled to take unpaid pandemic leave instead.
As a refresher, an employee can only take personal/carer’s leave when they’ve been directed to isolate by government authorities if they are indeed unfit for work due to an illness or injury (i.e., they contract COVID-19), or if they have to provide care or support to a household or immediate family member due to an illness or injury, or in the event of an unexpected emergency.
As such, Schedule X does provide some additional support to employees in the event they are isolating while not actually unwell, and they have exhausted their paid leave entitlements, serving to ensure they are not too heavily disadvantaged when they otherwise feel fit to attend work.
Employers should check any applicable awards pertaining to their employees to ensure they continue to receive their minimum entitlements.