COVID-19, work and caring for others

COVID-19, work and caring for others

If you cannot go to work because you need to care for someone affected by COVID-19 coronavirus, there are six things you need to know:

  • you can take time off work to care for family and household members who are sick
  • you can ask for flexible working arrangements to help you care for children at home
  • you may be able to work from home while you are caring for others
  • whether you can work from home or take paid leave depends on your situation
  • you should not be discriminated against because you need to care for someone
  • if you are not sure about your rights, you can get legal advice. See Get help with COVID-19.

Can I take time off work to care for someone sick?

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

If you are a permanent full-time or part-time employee, you can use paid carer’s leave. Carer’s leave means using your personal (sick) leave to care for someone in your immediate family or household who is ill, injured or affected by an unexpected emergency. Permanent employees who work full-time or part-time get a minimum of 10 days' personal leave (sick or carer’s leave) per year. Any part of this leave that you do not use accrues (rolls over) each year.

If you run out of paid carer’s leave, you may be able to access other paid leave, such as annual leave or long service leave.

If you do not have any paid leave, you can take two days of unpaid carer leave. You employer may also agree to let you to take more unpaid leave.

If you are employed under an enterprise agreement or modern award you might get more leave.

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 to give your employer notice (tell them in advance) that you need to take carer’s leave. You might also need to prove that you are caring for someone who is sick. For example, you might need to show your employer a medical or carer’s certificate from a medical professional. 

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 or a pandemic leave disaster payment.

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

Can I change my hours to care for my children?

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

If you need to care for children, you can request flexible working arrangements, such as changing the times you work.

You can request flexible working arrangements if you:

  • have children who are school-age or younger
  • have been employed for at least 12 months with the same employer
  • work full-time or part-time.

If you ask for flexible working arrangements, your employer can only refuse if they have reasonable business grounds. What is reasonable depends on the type of work you do. This will be different from one workplace to another.

There may be different rules about flexible work arrangements, depending on what it says in your employment contract, enterprise agreement or modern award.

You can visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website to check what your enterprise agreement or modern award says about flexible working arrangements. Another option may be to work from home while caring for children.

If working from home is not possible, you may be able to access paid carer’s leave if you need to take time off work to care for children.

Your employer must not discriminate (treat you badly) because you have carer responsibilities. See What if I am treated badly by my employer?

Can I work from home if I need to care for someone?

Depending on the level of care you need to give, it might be possible to work from home.

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 it is possible depends on the type of work you do and your situation. 

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

Can I take time off work to help family and friends?

Many people are supporting extended family members and friends, particularly older people who are isolated.

It is unlikely that you can use paid or unpaid leave to care for someone who is not in your immediate family or household.

You can talk to your employer about this. They might agree to you taking annual leave or unpaid leave to support 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 and need to care for someone who is sick, you can take two days of unpaid carer leave. If you need more leave, it is up to your employer whether they agree.

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

What if I am treated badly by my employer?

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

  • you are caring for someone with coronavirus
  • you have parenting or carer responsibilities.

Your employer must not unreasonably refuse a request for flexible working arrangements made because of your family responsibilities. They should make reasonable adjustments (changes) to accommodate your responsibilities as a parent or carer. What is reasonable depends on your situation and the type of work you do.

If you are dismissed (fired) by your employer and you think it is because of your family responsibilities, get legal advice immediately. You may only have a short time to put in a claim. See Get help with COVID-19 coronavirus. 

I need help with money

If you lose some or all of your income because of coronavirus, you may be able to get help from Services Australia (Centrelink).

If you must isolate or quarantine, or you are caring for a child who must, you may be eligible for government payments. These payments can help people who cannot get paid leave from work. For more information, visit Department of Health and Human Services test isolation and worker support payments and Services Australia pandemic leave disaster payment.

More information

Learn where to get help with the Get help with the COVID-19 coronavirus

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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