Time to take a COVID-19 holiday?

Nearly 700 businesses, mostly Ai Group members, attended this week’s Ai Group webinar which explored some of the issues that employers are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Requiring employees to take annual leave, allowing them to take personal leave and standing down workers owing to operational pressures were discussed.

In the webinar, Ai Group Workplace Lawyers Legal Practitioner Director Michael Mead discussed the circumstances under which personal/carer’s leave can be accessed in COVID situations.

“This is an emerging issue, and it is important for both employers and employees to know it has limits,” Mr Mead said.

“If an employee has an unexpected emergency with a member of their immediate family or household, then they can access carer’s leave, but there will be a threshold.

“There comes a tipping point when the nature of the emergency ceases to become unexpected.

“If it’s a situation that employees can plan for, then it limits their ability to access carer’s leave and instead they would need to access another form of leave.”

Something personal leave cannot be used for is to get vaccinated.

“However, it’s accessible if there are any ill-effects,” Mr Mead said.

“If people are starting to feel fatigued or unwell as a result of getting a COVID jab, then obviously they can access their personal leave.”

But there are alternatives.

“What employers are generally doing to manage that issue is opening up conversations about either employees being able to access discretionary leave for the purpose of getting that vaccination or just managing workflow and workload on the day,” Mr Mead said.

“The employee may start late or finish early so they can access sufficient time off to get vaccinated.”

Another issue facing employers is the problem of increasing leave balances, owing to domestic and international travel restrictions.

“Anecdotal and direct feedback from members is that leave balances for employees are increasing,” Mr Mead said.

“Employees aren’t taking the kind of long breaks they previously might have. It’s creating some challenges for businesses to consider.

“One of the things that we’re advising businesses who are facing that issue is that where possible, try to get employees access to their leave by agreement.

“That involves having good-quality and open communication with employees and setting up a plan for them to take leave.

“It’s an important health and safety issue for employees to be able to get away from the workplace and take a break.

“Leave doesn’t only mean going somewhere, it can mean doing something different to your day-to-day working interactions.

“It’s important to have a good-quality conversation about the benefits of getting time away from the workplace, from both a rejuvenation and productivity perspective. It’s an important conversation to have.”

The ability to cash out excessive annual leave under the terms of modern awards was another option, Mr Mead said.

Failing that, annual close downs might be possible.

A recording of the webinar will be available on the Ai Group website from next Tuesday, 10 August.

For further information, visit our COVID support page.

For Ai Group membership inquiries call 1300 55 66 77.

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Wendy Larter is the Senior Content Writer at Ai Group. She is a former journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.

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