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Compassionate leave in Australia: know your rights

06/03/2024 by
The Marketing Team
If you're currently grappling with a serious personal crisis and find yourself, needing time away from work, then understanding your rights around compassionate leave in Australia is crucial. This Business Kitz article gives you a comprehensive guide to compassionate leave, from understanding what it is and the legislation that surrounds it, to how pay works […]

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If you're currently grappling with a serious personal crisis and find yourself, needing time away from work, then understanding your rights around compassionate leave in Australia is crucial. This Business Kitz article gives you a comprehensive guide to compassionate leave, from understanding what it is and the legislation that surrounds it, to how pay works during this period. So take a deep breath - we're here to help you navigate your rights, responsibilities, and resources during this challenging time.

Understanding compassionate leave in Australia

What is compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave, often referred to as bereavement leave, is a type of leave provided to employees who need time off due to specific personal circumstances. These can involve the unfortunate occurrence of a family member's serious illness, injury, or death.

This form of leave provides employees with the necessary time to grieve, organise, and attend funerals, provide care for sick family members or to simply get their personal affairs in order in the aftermath of trauma or loss.

What is the legislation surrounding compassionate leave in Australia?

In Australia, compassionate leave is regulated and protected under the Fair Work Act 2009. Under this law, permanent employees (including both full-time and part-time employees) are entitled to two days of paid compassionate leave each time an immediate family or household member contracts a life-threatening illness or injury, or dies.

Casual employees also receive the same right to compassionate leave, but it's unpaid. The Act details the circumstances and necessary documentation required to access this leave.

How do you apply for compassionate leave?

To apply for compassionate leave, it's generally required for an employee to provide notice to their employer as soon as possible. This notice can be given before the leave, on the first day of leave or within a reasonable timeframe, and it can be via telephone, email or in person.

The employer may also request satisfactory evidence (like medical certificates or death certificates) to substantiate the reason for the leave. If an employee cannot provide the necessary documentation, the employer can refuse the leave request.

What about compassionate leave for full-time vs part-time employees?

Full-time and part-time employees in Australia are entitled to receive pay at their base rate for ordinary hours worked during compassionate leave. This is the rate of pay an employee would have received for working their regular hours on a normal working day, excluding any additional allowances, bonuses, or overtime.

On the other hand, as mentioned earlier, casual employees are also entitled to compassionate leave, but without pay.

How does my pay work during compassionate leave?

Under the Fair Work Act, if an employee (excluding casual staff) takes compassionate leave, they should be paid at their base pay rate for the ordinary hours they would have worked on those days. This does not include separate entitlements like overtime or penalty rates. The payment is typically processed during the usual payroll cycle, like any other paid leave.

It's important to note that an employer may ask for evidence substantiating the reason for leave, so keeping necessary documents handy is advisable.

Reasons for compassionate leave

There are a variety of circumstances that may necessitate compassionate leave. Employers in Australia need to be understanding and supportive, recognising that employees may encounter difficult personal situations. Here are some common scenarios when compassionate leave may be utilised:

What about bereavement and funeral attendance?

One of the most frequent uses of compassionate leave involves situations of bereavement. Losing a loved one is a highly distressing event and the grieving process requires time and space. It is not uncommon for individuals to take compassionate leave to attend funerals or to deal with the aftermath of a loved one's passing. Similarly, an employee might require time off to travel in order to attend such events.

What about acute or serious illness in the family?

Another prevalent reason for compassionate leave is when an immediate family member falls severely ill. These circumstances might not only cause emotional distress, but may also require an employee to be a caregiver or assist with various medical procedures or appointments. Remember, it's essential to provide relevant documentation to the employer, where practical, to substantiate the need for compassionate leave in such situations.

Are natural disasters or major incidents included for compassionate leave?

Natural disasters or major incidents resulting in significant damage or disruption can also be grounds for compassionate leave. During such events, an employee might need to secure their property, care for others, or even just cope with the traumatic event. This is particularly relevant in Australia, where the threat of bushfires or floods can be common. Again, it is vital to keep your employer informed and share any necessary details or documentation.

Rights and responsibilities in compassionate leave

When it comes to compassionate leave, both employees and employers have specific rights and responsibilities that need to be met to ensure smooth proceedings. These rights and responsibilities may vary depending on your employment status, your employer, or the circumstances surrounding the need for compassionate leave.

What are the employee rights during compassionate leave?

In Australia, as an employee, you are entitled to certain rights when availing compassionate leave. This includes the right to take leave due to the illness or death of a close family member. You are also entitled to be paid during this period, at your base pay rate for your ordinary hours of work.

Besides, your employment protections, such as protection against dismissal, alteration of position or duties, or prejudice for taking compassionate leave, still apply.

What are the employer responsibilities in granting compassionate leave?

On their part, employers have the responsibility to provide compassionate leave when an employee's close family or household member has a serious illness, injury, or dies. It is employers' obligation to acknowledge compassionate leave requests and handle them fairly.

It’s essential to note as an employer, you should not, directly or indirectly, exert undue pressure on an employee to not take their leave. Failing to do so could lead to punitive measures from the concerned regulatory bodies.

How to navigate workloads and replacement staffing during compassionate leave?

During an employee's compassionate leave, an employer could face challenges in handling workloads and arranging for replacement staffing. As an employer, it's crucial to balance these challenges while also being supportive of the affected employee(s).

This could mean redistributing tasks among the existing team, hiring temporary staff, or adjusting project timelines where necessary. However, this should not result in penalising the employee taking leave. It is also beneficial to maintain open and supportive communication with the employee concerned, updating them only as necessary and ensuring their work is covered during their absence.

This respectful and understanding approach can go a long way in maintaining morale and promoting an overall supportive work environment.

Rights and responsibilities in compassionate leave

As part of the fair labour practices that Australia champions, employers and employees have definite rights and responsibilities during compassionate leave scenarios. Understanding these legal rights and responsibilities can enhance productivity while reducing undue stress during these times of hardship.

What are the employee rights during compassionate leave?

As an employee in Australia, you have certain rights associated with compassionate leave. The fundamental one is being entitled to two days of compassionate leave every time an immediate family member or household member either falls seriously unwell or dies.

These rights are uniform and apply to both full-time and part-time employees. Additionally, you have the right to seek legal assistance should your employer unreasonably deny your application for compassionate leave.

What are the employer's responsibilities in granting compassionate leave?

If you are an employer, it is your responsibility to consider and respond to any legitimate requests for compassionate leave from your employees. The Fair Work Act requires you to provide paid compassionate leave to full-time or part-time employees and unpaid leave to casual workers when they face specific personal hardships.

Furthermore, it's crucial to maintain an understanding and supportive workplace environment. Accept compassionate leave needs as genuine, avoid placing unnecessary burden on the employee, and ensure that their job remains secure during their absence.

How to navigate workloads and replacement staffing during compassionate leave?

The period during which a staff member is on compassionate leave can be a challenging time for managing workloads. However, there are several strategies you can use to address this situation. One approach can be redistributing tasks among existing employees.

Another effective method could involve hiring temporary staff to cover the crucial tasks of the absent employee. The key is to ensure that the employee's absence doesn't disrupt the overall work process while respecting their need for time away.

Key takeaways on compassionate leave in Australia

As highlighted in this discussion, compassionate leave is a crucial provision in the Australian labour laws. It provides an opportunity for employees to take time off from work in case of a bereavement, serious illness in the family, or in the wake of a major incident.

Both part-time and full-time employees are entitled to compassionate leave, and they should know the procedure to apply for it. Likewise, employers also bear certain responsibilities, including making arrangements for workload and staffing during an employee's compassionate leave.

Support and resources are available for helping individuals on compassionate leave, ranging from legal advice, government relief, to community and mental health resources. Keep in mind your rights as an employee and don't hesitate to seek help when you need it.

Disclaimer: This content is intended to be used for educational and informational purposes only. Business Kitz does not offer legal advice and cannot guarantee the accuracy, reliability, or suitability of its website content for a particular purpose. We encourage you to seek professional advice from a licensed professional and verify statements before relying on them. We are not responsible for any legal actions or decisions made based on the information provided on our website.

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The Marketing Team
Business Kitz Marketing team are experts in their field. You can expect the best business guides and updates on employment law here.

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