Bushfires Across Australia
10th January 2020
by Fairwork Ombudsman
Bushfires across Australia are affecting many parts of the country. Emergency and disaster declarations are in place in parts of Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
Many workplaces and individuals are affected by the bushfires and smoke. There are a number of workplace rights and entitlements for employers and employees affected by natural disasters or seeking to access leave, and different places you can seek help.
There are a number of paid and unpaid leave entitlements employees may be able to access if they are affected by the bushfires or smoke, or to assist with emergency management activities:
Minimum entitlements to annual leave, sick and carer’s leave and community service leave come from the National Employment Standards (NES). Awards, enterprise agreements and other registered agreements can’t offer less than the minimums in the NES but they can provide more.
Annual leave can be taken at any time an employer and employee agree. An employer can only refuse a request for annual leave if the refusal is reasonable.
In some cases an employer may be able to direct an employee to take annual leave – these rules are set in awards and registered agreements.
Sick and Carers Leave
Employees (other than causal employees) affected by a natural disaster or emergency may be entitled to take paid sick and carers leave.
An employee can take paid sick leave when they can’t work because of personal illness or injury. For example an employee injured during a bush fire, who is unwell and unable to work due to smoke inhalation, may be entitled to sick leave.
An employee can take paid carers leave to care for or support a member of their immeadite family or household who is sick, injured or has an unexpected emergency. For example, an employee may be able to take carer’s leave if their child’s school closes unexpectedly due to a bushfire emergency.
Full-time and part-time employees who have used all of their paid sick and carer’s leave, and casual employees,are entitled to two days unpaid carer’s leave per occasion to provide care and support to a family or household member due to illness, injury or in the event of an unexpected emergency.
An employee has to let their employee know that they are going to take sick or carer’s leave, and they may need to provide evidence.
Community service leave
All employees, including casuals, are entitled to take community service leave for certain voluntary emergency management activities, if what they are doing fits the definition of a voluntary emergency management activity.
This leave applies to the activity and reasonable travel and rest time. The leave is unpaid. There is no limit on the amount of community service leave an employee can take.
Go to our Community service leave page for more information including what counts as voluntary emergency management activities, and how employees access the leave entitlement.
Defence Reservists may be called to assist with the bushfires. In addition to the NES, there are a number of rights and protections that apply under the Defence Reserve Service (Protection) Act 2001 if Reservists are absent on defence service. This includes the right to be released from work while undertaking defence service and to continue to be employed on their return.
For more information read our Defence reservists – rights and responsibilities at work fact sheet.
The heat or smoke from bushfires may be a risk to health or safety at work in some areas.
Visit the Safe Work Australia website for information about outdoor air pollution, including links to resources and advice from federal and state or territory bodies. Go to their Outdoor air pollution news article for more information.
For more information about dealing with smoke and hazardous conditions please visit the relevant page or news for your state:
Workplaces or individuals affected by smoke, haze or hot conditions can also contact their relevant state workplace health and safety authority for information about health and safety in the workplace:
Pay during stand down
Bushfires, smoke, haze or hot conditions may affect whether some workplaces can stay open.
If a business needs to temprarily close, employers may be able to stand down an employee in soem circumstances. This includes when an employee can’t do useful work becuase of:
During a stand down period, an employee:
Some awards, agreements and contracts have extra rules about when an employer can stand down an employee without pay. Go to Pay during inclement weather & stand down for more information about when an employer can stand an employee down, whether they need to be paid, and the difference between a stand down and a shut down. If you have one, check your agreement or workplace contract for further information.
Flexible working arrangements
Some employers and employees may wish to negotiate ways to make their workplace more flexible to help deal with the effects of the bush fires and smoke. Examples include changing what hours are worked and where work is performed.
To find out about the formal ways employers and employees can make their workplace more flexible go to Flexibility in the workplace.