As winter and the cold and flu season arrive, employers should be aware on how to appropriately manage employee absences. This article aims to provide practical insights and solutions to common questions, empowering businesses to effectively tackle the complexities of illness management in the workplace.

Sending employees home

If an employee attends the workplace sick, they risk passing their illness to other employees and customers.

Employers have a duty to provide their workers with a safe working environment and can direct a sick employee to go home. Employers cannot force employees to take paid personal/carer’s leave, but may suggest an employee take personal/carer’s leave or offer working from home arrangements where possible.

In rare circumstances where an employee appears to be ill but insists on coming back to work, employers can, in line with their work health and safety duty, request that employees obtain a medical certificate indicating they are fit for work before allowing them back into the workplace.

Personal/carer’s leave

In the event an employee informs an employer they are ill or injured, they may opt to take paid or unpaid leave.

Paid personal/carer’s leave is an entitlement which allows workers to take paid time off to deal with personal illness, family emergencies, or caring responsibilities. Under the National Employment Standards, full-time employees are entitled to 10 days of paid personal leave each year, where part-time employees receive this entitlement on a pro-rata basis. Casual employees are not entitled to paid personal leave, but may opt to refuse a shift.

Employees can also take paid personal/carer’s leave when either they become ill or injured, or an immediate family member or household member becomes ill or injured (and the employee needs to provide the family/household member care or support). Immediate family members include a:

  • current or former spouse or de facto partner;
  • child;
  • parent;
  • grandparent;
  • grandchild;
  • sibling; or
  • child, parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of the employee’s spouse or de facto partner.

A household member is anyone an employee lives with.

When an employee takes paid personal/carer’s leave they must (as soon as practicable) notify their employer that they are taking personal/carer’s leave, and how long they expect to be on leave. Employers can request evidence that would reasonably satisfy someone that the employee is ill or injured (or that they must care/support for a family/household member).

If an employee has exhausted all their paid personal/carer’s leave, they may take unpaid leave. While employers cannot prevent employees from taking unpaid leave, they can request evidence to show the employee is indeed sick. If an employee is unable to evidence their illness, the employer may address the matter as any otherwise unauthorised absence.

Employer’s should be aware that they cannot take any adverse action (such a discipline or dismissal) against an employee because they are temporarily absent due to illness or injury.

Proactively reducing illness

While you cannot completely stamp out sickness, there are steps employers can take to drastically reduce illness in the workplace. These include:

  • Encouraging employees to get their seasonal flu shot and Covid boosters – these can be through a local doctor or pharmacy. Employers should also consider hosting a flu vaccine clinic at the workplace;
  • Reviewing sick leave policies to ensure they encourage sick workers to stay at home and recover without fear of judgement or negative consequences;
  • Providing employees with a clean ventilated working environment and hygiene resources such as masks, tissues, hand sanitiser, cleaning sprays and rubbish bins; and
  • Encouraging general hygiene behaviours such as wearing a mask when in crowded spaces and regularly washing or sanitising your hands.

If you have any questions regarding work health and safety in your business or wish to implement or revise a sick leave policy, contact our Workplace Relations team for a confidential discussion on 1800 RETAIL (738 245).