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Know your rights at work

Information about if there are changes to your job, you're taking leave, getting the Jobkeeper payment, stood down or lose your job.

Call the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94 if you have urgent questions about your workplace rights and responsibilities related to coronavirus.

Find out more about the types of financial support available if your job has been affected by coronavirus.

What you need to know

During the coronavirus pandemic, your employer may ask you to change how and where you do your job, including:

  • increasing or reducing the number of hours you work
  • changes to your rostered working hours
  • working from home
  • the type of work you do

Changes to how much and when you work

Your employer can ask you to work extra hours or change your rostered hours if the request is reasonable. They’ll have to let you know the details of the change and take your views into account.

It’s important to check your award, registered agreement, employment contract or workplace policies first. There may be rules around overtime and how many hours you can work.

If you have a permanent job (are employed full-time or part-time on an ongoing basis), your employer will usually need your agreement if they want to reduce your work hours.

Individual flexibility arrangements

You can choose to enter an individual flexibility arrangement if you, or your employer, want to make changes to your work that are different to the terms in your award or enterprise agreement.

This lets you change:

  • working hours
  • overtime rates
  • penalty rates
  • leave loading
  • allowances

Both you and your employer will need to agree to any individual flexibility arrangement in writing. Don’t be pressured or forced to sign one.

Working from home

The normal workplace, health and safety laws still apply if you’re working from home. Your employer is responsible for minimising your risks, which can include:

  • guidance on workstation setup
  • following good ergonomic practices
  • regular communication
  • continued access to any employee assistance program

Talk to your employer if you need any equipment to set up your home office in a safe and ergonomic way. Although they don’t have to supply or pay for any equipment, your employer may be willing to loan it to you for the short term.

If you do need to buy home office equipment yourself, you can usually claim the expenses associated with a home office when you complete your income tax.

If you’re asked to work from home and are experiencing family or domestic violence

Call Emergency Triple Zero on 000 if you or your children are in immediate danger.

Call the Domestic Violence helpline on 1800 656 463 for free telephone crisis counselling and referral services.

 

If it isn’t safe for you to work from home due to the impact of family or domestic violence, you’re legally allowed to:

  • take unpaid family and domestic violence leave
  • request flexible working arrangements
  • take paid or unpaid sick or carer’s leave, in some situations

When working from home isn’t possible

If you need to go into work to do your job, your employer is legally responsible for managing the risk of coronavirus in the workplace.

This can include:

  • creating barriers to enforce social distancing rules
  • promoting good hygiene
  • cleaning surfaces and high traffic areas more often
  • changing rosters to reduce the number of staff working at any one time

You have the right to stop or refuse to carry out work if you’re concerned that it’s a serious risk to your health and safety.

Talk to your employer or health and safety representative about any safety concerns you have.

You may need to take leave from your work as a result of coronavirus. There are paid and unpaid leave options, depending on your situation.

If you have to self-isolate or quarantine

Your employer doesn’t have to pay you if you can’t work because you need to self-isolate or quarantine.

You can talk to them about your options, including:

  • working from home or from another location
  • taking sick leave
  • taking annual leave
  • taking paid or unpaid pandemic leave
  • taking any other leave available, such as long service leave

You may be able to get the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment if you live in NSW and:

  • are directed to self-isolate or quarantine by NSW Health, and
  • you don’t receive any income or income support payments during this time

Find out more about the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment in Section 2: Get financial support.

If you or a family member is sick with coronavirus

If you work full-time or part-time, you can take:

  • paid sick leave if you can’t work because you’re sick with coronavirus
  • paid carer’s leave to look after a family or household member who's sick with coronavirus
  • 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave each time a family or household member is sick, if you've used all your paid carer's leave

Casual employees can take 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave each time a family or household member is sick.

Your employer may ask for a medical certificate as proof of the illness if you’re taking sick or carer’s leave.

You’re protected from losing your job if you’re away from work temporarily due to illness, including with coronavirus.

If you caught coronavirus at work

Talk to your employer as soon as possible if you have coronavirus and think you caught it at work, as you may be able to claim workers compensation.

For workers in industries with a higher risk of exposure, it will be presumed that you caught coronavirus through your job, unless it can be proven otherwise.

In most other cases, you’ll need to prove that your work activities were the main contributing factor in getting coronavirus.

To make a claim, you’ll need:

  • a certificate of capacity from your doctor to prove your diagnosis
  • information from your employer and doctor that shows your job was the main contributing factor in catching coronavirus

If your child’s school or childcare centre is closed

Full-time and part-time workers can take paid carer’s leave to look after a family member because of an unexpected emergency.

This includes if your child’s school or childcare centre temporarily closes on short notice due to coronavirus concerns.

All employees, including casuals, can take 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave for each unexpected emergency. Those who work full-time and part-time must have used their paid carer’s leave first.

Your employer may ask for proof of the unexpected emergency if you're claiming paid or unpaid carer’s leave.

If your child’s school or childcare centre is closed for a longer period, talk to your employer about other options, including:

  • working from home or other flexible working arrangements
  • taking annual leave
  • taking any other leave, such as long service leave

Pandemic leave

If you need to take leave due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are paid and unpaid pandemic leave options.

Your eligibility will depend on what industry award you are employed under.

Paid pandemic leave

Paid pandemic leave is available until 29 March 2021 for residential aged care workers covered by the Aged Care, Nurses and Health Professionals Awards who are:

  • full time
  • part time, or
  • casual employees who’ve been employed on a regular and ongoing basis

If you’re unsure, you can check which award applies to you at the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Paid pandemic leave allows you to take up to 2 weeks of paid leave each time you can’t work because:

  • you have to self-isolate or quarantine
  • you’ve come into contact with a person suspected of having coronavirus, or
  • of government or medical authority measures taken in response to coronavirus, such as closing an aged care facility

This leave doesn’t need to be accrued or pro-rated like normal leave, the full amount can be taken straight away.

To take paid pandemic leave, you’ll need to either already have been tested for coronavirus or get tested as soon as possible.

You cannot take paid pandemic leave if you:

  • can take paid sick or carer’s leave instead
  • are entitled to workers compensation from getting coronavirus

You're still employed if you take paid pandemic leave. It won't affect your paid or unpaid leave entitlements, such as accruing annual or sick leave.

You’re protected from losing your job or from any other adverse action from your employer if you’ve taken paid pandemic leave.

Unpaid pandemic leave

If you’re employed under one of the affected awards, you can take up to 2 weeks’ unpaid pandemic leave if you can’t work because:

  • you have to self-isolate by the advice of government or medical authorities, or
  • of measures taken by government or medical authorities in response to the pandemic, such as restricting non-essential businesses

You can check which award applies to you at the Fair Work Ombudsman.

This leave is available for full-time, part-time and casual workers. It doesn’t need to be accrued or pro-rated like normal leave, the full amount can be taken straight away. You may be able to take more than the 2 weeks if you and your employer both agree.

It can be taken even if you have paid leave available.

You can check at the Fair Work Ombudsman for:

  • the list of awards where unpaid pandemic leave no longer applies
  • the end date for awards where it's still in effect

You're still employed if you take unpaid pandemic leave. It won't affect your paid or unpaid leave entitlements, such as accruing annual or long service leave.

You’re protected from losing your job or from any other adverse action from your employer if you’ve taken unpaid pandemic leave.

Taking annual leave

If you’re employed under one of the affected awards, there have been temporary changes made so you can choose to take your annual leave at half pay, which doubles the time you can have off work.

You and your employer have to both agree and confirm the annual leave arrangement in writing.

The leave needs to start before the date Schedule X stops operating in your award, but can finish after that date.

You can check at the Fair Work Ombudsman for:

If you're on leave at half pay, you'll continue to accumulate annual leave and sick and carer’s leave as if you were on leave at full pay.

If your employer directs you to take annual leave

Your employer can direct you to take paid annual leave if the request is reasonable. They can do this:

  • if the relevant award or enterprise agreement you are employed under allows it, or
  • in certain situations, such as the business closing due to coronavirus

You can check which award applies to you at the Fair Work Ombudsman.

If you’re a casual employee or independent contractor

Casual employees are paid a higher rate of hourly pay instead of getting paid leave, so they usually won’t get paid if they don’t work.

They can take unpaid leave, including:

  • 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave each time a family or household member is sick, injured, or if there's an unexpected emergency
  • 2 days of unpaid compassionate leave each time a family or household member dies or suffers a life threatening illness or injury
  • 5 days (in a 12-month period) of unpaid family and domestic violence leave
  • unpaid community service leave

In most cases, independent contractors are not employees and don't get paid leave if they don’t work.

There are some exceptions, such as fixed term contractors and contract outworkers in the textile, clothing and footwear industry.

If your employer claims the JobKeeper payment on your behalf, they must pay you the full amount they receive. It’s against the law for them to keep, or to pressure you to give them, any part of that payment.

Contact Centrelink if you’ll be getting the JobKeeper payment and you’ve applied for or are already getting an income support payment, as this can affect the amount of income support you receive.

 

JobKeeper is a subsidy for businesses affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) so they can keep paying their staff.

If your employer plans to claim the JobKeeper payment, they’ll:

  • need to claim it for all eligible employees, they can’t decide who gets it
  • let you know if they intend to claim this payment on your behalf

If you work more than one job, you can only claim the JobKeeper payment once, so you’ll have to choose which employer to do this through.

JobKeeper directions and agreements

In certain situations, employers can direct their staff under the JobKeeper scheme to:

  • work less hours than usual
  • stop working altogether
  • change their work duties
  • change their work hours

If your employer directs you to stand down by not working at all or by working less hours, they’ll still need to pay you either:

  • the full JobKeeper payment, or
  • your usual pay for any hours worked, whichever is more

You’re still employed if you’re directed to stand down and you’ll continue to accrue your leave entitlements during this period.

If you’re stood down and want to get another job, or take any formal training or professional development, you’ll need to get your employer’s permission.

If you have a JobKeeper concern or dispute

You can report illegal or concerning behaviour related to the JobKeeper payment to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

You can get help with a JobKeeper dispute at the Fair Work Commission.

Being stood down is not the same as losing your job. You’re still employed and continue to accrue your leave entitlements.

Your employer can stand you down either with or without pay.

When you can be stood down

Under the Fair Work Act, you can be stood down without pay:

  • if you can’t be usefully employed due to a stoppage of work, and
  • where the employer can’t reasonably be held responsible for the reason that work has stopped

This includes where:

  • the government has directed the business to close
  • most of the workforce is in self-isolation or quarantine and the remaining staff can’t be usefully employed
  • there’s a lack of supply

You generally can’t be stood down just because business is slow.

Enterprise agreements and employment contracts can have different or extra rules about when an employee can be stood down without pay.

Your rights during a stand down

If you want to get another job during a stand down, you’ll need to get your employer’s permission.

Any existing restrictions on the work you can do as set out in your contract or workplace policies, such as not working for a competitor, will still apply.

You may be able to recover any unpaid wages if your employer has unlawfully stood you down without pay.

You can apply for help dealing with a stand down dispute at the Fair Work Commission.

A job can end in different ways. It can be made redundant, an employee can be dismissed or the business goes bankrupt.

Depending on the type of role and how employment ends, there are generally different rights and obligations related to:

  • notice period
  • final pay provisions
  • redundancy entitlements
  • if you're a visa holder
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