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The Fair Work Commission has extended unpaid pandemic leave and annual leave at half pay in 9 awards in the health sector.

These are provided by Schedule X in the awards. Leave take under Schedule X now needs to start by 29 March 2021. Previously, it needed to start before 29 October 2020.

Schedule X applies in these awards until a further order is issued by the Fair Work Commission.

What is Schedule X?

Schedule X is a temporary schedule in the health sector awards. It gives employees:

  • 2 weeks of unpaid pandemic leave
  • the ability to take twice as much annual leave at half their normal pay if their employer agrees.

The Schedule was added into the awards on 8 April 2020.

Which awards does this affect?

The awards affected by this extension are the:

  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services Award
  • Aged Care Award
  • Ambulance and Patient Transport Industry Award
  • Health Professionals and Support Services Award
  • Medical Practitioners Award
  • Nurses Award
  • Pharmacy Industry Award
  • Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award
  • Supported Employment Services Award.

Unpaid pandemic leave

Employees who are employed under one of the affected awards can access up to 2 weeks’ unpaid pandemic leave (or more by agreement with their employer) if they’re prevented from working:

  • as a result of being required to self-isolate by government or medical authorities, or acting on the advice of a medical practitioner, or
  • by measures taken by government or medical authorities in response to the pandemic (for example, an enforceable government direction restricting non-essential businesses).

The leave is available in full immediately to full-time, part-time and casual employees – they don’t have to accrue it.

Employees don’t have to use all their paid leave before accessing unpaid pandemic leave.

The leave needs to start before, but can finish after, the date when the unpaid pandemic leave provisions in the relevant award stop applying. If Schedule X doesn’t have a set end date in an award, the leave needs to start before 29 October 2020. Check your award in the table below to see when Schedule X stops operating.

All eligible employees can take the 2 weeks’ leave. It is not pro-rated for employees who don’t work full-time.

Unpaid pandemic leave doesn’t affect other paid or unpaid leave entitlements and counts as service for entitlements under awards and the National Employment Standards.

Notice and evidence

An employee has to let their employer know that they’re going to take unpaid pandemic leave and the reason for taking the leave. This has to be done as soon as possible and can be after the leave has started. They should also say how long they’ll be off or expect to be off work.

An employer can ask an employee to give evidence that shows why they took the leave.

An employer can’t dismiss an employee or take any other adverse action against an employee because the employee is entitled to unpaid pandemic leave.

JobKeeper wage subsidy and unpaid pandemic leave

An employee receiving JobKeeper payments from their employer can still take unpaid pandemic leave under their award at the same time as receiving the JobKeeper payment.

Annual leave at half pay

Under Schedule X, employees can take their annual leave at half pay, and double their time off work, if their employer agrees. This means an employee can get 1 week of annual leave (including annual leave loading if applicable) for every 2 weeks of annual leave they take.

The agreement has to be in writing and the employer needs to keep it as a record.

The leave needs to start before the date Schedule X stops operating in the relevant award, but can finish after that date. If Schedule X doesn’t have a set end date in an award, the leave needs to start before 29 October 2020.

An employee on leave at half pay accumulates annual leave and sick and carer’s leave as if they were on leave at full pay.

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