COVID-19 and being unable to work

COVID-19 and being unable to work

If you are unable to work because of COVID-19 coronavirus, there are five things you need to know:

  • you must not go to work if you have to self-isolate
  • you may be able to work from home if you are self-isolating or caring for someone who is sick
  • you may be paid while you are self-isolating or caring for someone else
  • whether you can work from home or be paid depends on your particular situation
  • if you are not sure about your rights, you can get legal advice. See Get help with COVID-19.

On this page:

Can I still get paid if I must self-isolate or self-quarantine?

When must I self-isolate or self-quarantine?

Self-isolating and self-quarantining mean you cannot leave your property or the place you are staying in. This means you cannot go to work. There are new, serious penalties for people who fail to self-isolate or self-quarantine. Examples of when you must self-isolate or self-quarantine include:

  • you have been exposed to the COVID-19 coronavirus
  • you have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus
  • you have just returned from overseas
  • you are told to by a health professional.

For more information, visit Department of Health and Human Services quarantine and isolation.

Can I get a government payment?

If you must self-isolate or self-quarantine, your employer might not have to pay you. For example, your employer does not have to pay you if you are a casual worker or have used all your sick leave.

If you cannot get paid leave, you may be entitled to payments by the Victorian government called test isolation and worker support payments. You might also be entitled to these payments if you are caring for a child who must self-isolate or self-quarantine.

For more information, visit Department of Health and Human Services test isolation and worker support payments.

For information about other types of financial support, see What if I need help with money?

Should my employer pay me?

In most circumstances, your employer does not have to pay you if you must self-isolate but you are not sick. If you are covered by a modern award, enterprise agreement or contract that says you will still get paid, your employer may have to pay you. Your letter of employment should tell you whether a contract, enterprise or modern award covers your employment.

The Fair Work Commission is changing many modern awards to:

  • give employees 14 days of unpaid pandemic leave
  • let employees take annual leave at half pay. For example, instead of taking one week’s annual leave at full pay, you could take two weeks’ leave at half pay.  

You can visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website to check what your enterprise agreement or modern award says about paid and unpaid leave.

You may have other options to get paid while you must self-isolate. These include:

  • taking paid annual leave or other paid leave (for example, long service leave), if your employer allows this
  • applying for additional leave (often called special leave). Not all employers offer special leave, but some do, so it is worth checking

Can I work from home if I self-isolate?

If you are feeling well and able to work, you can ask your employer if you can work from home while you self-isolate. Government and health authorities recommend that anyone who can work from home should do this. All employers should allow employees to work from home where this is possible. Whether you can work from home or not will depend on the type of work you do and your particular circumstances.

For more information, see COVID-19 and working from home

Can I use my sick leave if I am unable to work?

If you are sick and you are a permanent  full-time or part-time employee, you can use your paid personal leave (sick leave). You may need to prove that you could not work. For example, you may need to give your employer a medical certificate or statutory declaration

All full-time and part-time employees get at least ten days of paid personal leave for each year they work for that employer. Personal leave can be used as sick leave or carer’s leave. Any part of your personal leave that you do not use accrues (rolls over) each year.

You may get more than ten days of personal leave per year. Check your employment contract or visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website to check what your enterprise agreement or modern award says about personal leave.

Can I use my carer’s leave to care for someone else?

You can take time off work to care for someone in your immediate family or household if they are sick from the COVID-19 coronavirus.

If you are a permanent full-time or part-time employee, you can use paid carer’s leave. There may be other options for you to be paid if you do not have carer’s leave, such as using other paid leave or special leave.

If you are caring for a child who must isolate or quarantine, but cannot get paid leave from work, you may be eligible for test isolation and worker support payments.

For more information, see COVID-19 and caring for others.

What if I have to care for my children?       

Many workers will need to care for children at home if schools or childcare centres are closed.

You may be able to request flexible working arrangements, such as changing the times you work.

You may be able to work from home while caring for children.

For more information, see COVID-19 and caring for others

What are my rights as a casual worker?

Different laws apply to casual jobs. If you work as a casual, you are usually paid a higher hourly rate, but do not get the same rights and entitlements as full-time and part-time employees.

If you are a casual employee, you will not get paid personal leave (sick leave).

If you need to care for someone who is sick, you can take two days of unpaid carer’s leave. If you need more leave, it is up to your employer whether they agree.

In some cases, your employer might give you special paid leave if you have to self-quarantine or you get sick from the COVID-19 coronavirus. Ask your employer if special paid leave is available.

If you cannot get paid leave, you may be entitled to payments by the Victorian government called test isolation and worker support payments. You might also be entitled to these payments if you are caring for a child who must self-isolate or self-quarantine.

For more information, visit Department of Health and Human Services test isolation and worker support payments.

What if I am treated badly because I am sick or caring for someone?

Your employer must not discriminate against you (treat you badly) because:

  • you are sick with the COVID-19 coronavirus
  • you are caring for someone with COVID-19 coronavirus
  • you have parenting or carer responsibilities.

For more information, see COVID-19 and discrimination at work.

What if I need help with money?

If you lose some or all of your income because of the COVID-19 coronavirus, you may be able to get help from Services Australia (Centrelink). There are different waiting periods and asset tests for people who lose income because of the COVID-19 coronavirus. These changes have happened recently. Check to see if you can get help.

The government is reviewing and changing programs to provide financial support to people who have lost work. The JobKeeper program will help many employers to keep paying their employees. For up-to-date information, see JobKeeper payments.

More information

Learn where to Get help with COVID-19

Visit our ‘Find legal answers’ page on Employment and your rights

Fair Work Ombudsman Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws

Acknowledgement

We acknowledge and thank JobWatch for allowing us to use their COVID-19: Employment rights Q&A to prepare this information.

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