Bushfires are affecting many people and businesses across the country.
Better HR is doing everything we can to support our customers and partners during this challenging time.
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Subscribers can contact us directly to ask specific questions about employment matters such as employer rights during natural disasters.
General information is also provided below to help subscribers and non-subscribers. We will continue to update this page as needed to provide the best support we can. If there is additional information you feel we should include here please contact us.
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. These include:
- annual leave
- sick and carer’s leave
- community service leave
- Defence Reservists
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 out in awards and registered agreements.
For specific questions about directing an employee to take leave please contact us.
Sick and carer’s leave
Employees (other than casual employees) affected by a natural disaster or emergency may be entitled to take paid sick and carer’s leave.
An employee can take paid sick leave when they can’t work because of a personal illness or injury. For example an employee injured during a bushfire, or who is unwell and unable to work due to smoke inhalation, may be entitled to sick leave.
An employee can take paid carer’s leave to care for or support a member of their immediate 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 employer know that they are going to take sick or carer’s leave, and they may need to provide evidence.
For specific questions about Paid sick and carer’s leave, including Payment for sick and carer’s leave, Unpaid carer’s leave and Notice and medical certificates please contact us.
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.
For specific questions about Community service leave including what counts as voluntary emergency management activities, and how employees access the leave entitlement please contact us.
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 specific questions about Defence reservists – rights and responsibilities – please contact us.
Workplace health and safety
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:
- Australian Capital Territory: Heavy smoke and hot conditions in the ACT
- New South Wales: Bushfire
- Queensland: Bushfire smoke health advisory
- South Australia: Bushfires
- Tasmania: Bushfire Smoke and Your Health
- Victoria: Health concerns related to Victorian bushfires
- Western Australia: Smoke hazard from bushfires
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:
- Australian Capital Territory: Work Safe ACT
- New South Wales: SafeWork NSW
- Northern Territory: NT WorkSafe
- Queensland: Workplace Health and Safety Queensland
- South Australia: SafeWork SA
- Tasmania: WorkSafe Tasmania
- Victoria: WorkSafe Victoria
- Western Australia: WorkSafe WA
Pay during stand down
Bushfires, smoke, haze or hot conditions may affect whether some workplaces can stay open.
If a business needs to temporarily close, employers may be able to stand down an employee in some circumstances. This includes when an employee can’t do useful work because of:
- equipment break down, if the employer isn’t responsible for it
- stoppage of work for which the employer can’t be held responsible, including severe and inclement weather or natural disasters (such as bushfires).
During a stand down period, an employee:
- doesn’t need to be paid
- accrues leave in the usual way.
Some awards, agreements and contracts have extra rules about when an employer can stand down an employee without pay.
For specific questions 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 please contact us.
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 bushfires and smoke. Examples include changing what hours are worked and where work is performed.
For specific questions about the formal ways employers and employees can make their workplace more flexible go please contact us.
Emergency and useful contacts
In case of emergency call 000.
Visit Current ABC Emergency Coverage page for alerts and warnings summaries.
For information on current bushfire incidents and warnings, please visit:
- Victoria: Vic Emergency
- New South Wales: NSW Rural Fire Service
- Australian Capital Territory: Emergency Services Agency
- Queensland: QLD Rural Fire Service
- Northern Territory: Secure NT
- Western Australia: Emergency WA
- South Australia: South Australian Country Fire Service
- Tasmania: Tasmania Fire Service
If you have been affected by bushfires and are in need of financial or welfare support, or assistance, please visit:
- Australian Government Disaster Assist – financial assistance for individuals.
- Department of Human Services – support for people directly affected by bushfires in disaster declared areas.
- Disaster Health Care Assistance Scheme – for help with health related out of pocket expenses resulting from a natural disaster.
- Lifeline or call 13 11 14.
- ATO – Bushfires 2019-20 – for information on deferrals for any lodgements and payments due.