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Employment and small business

Employment and small business

Last updated: December 2020

The page talks about minimum employment entitlements and the National Employment Standards contained in the Fair Work Act.

A minimum entitlement means the least amount of payment or some other benefit that a person is entitled to receive under certain laws or rules. You can be paid more or receive more leave, for example, than is set out on this page.

A small business employer is a business that employs less than 15 people (including casual staff working on a regular and systematic basis).

You may also have entitlements under other state or federal laws, a modern award, an enterprise agreement, your  employment contract or an employer policy (if any). You may receive more generous entitlements under those documents than what is set out on this page. You should obtain legal advice about your particular employment situation if you are not sure about your entitlements.

Will I be paid if I am absent from work due to a bushfire?

If you are absent from work due to a bushfire you may, subject to your personal circumstances, be entitled to take the following types of paid leave:

  • paid personal/carer's leave
  • paid annual leave
  • paid compassionate leave.

Only full-time or part-time employees are entitled to paid leave and certain eligibility requirements apply.

Alternatively, if you cannot attend work due to a bushfire, you may be entitled to take unpaid leave, including unpaid carer's leave or unpaid community service leave. Full-time, part-time and casual employees may be able to take unpaid leave.

Can I take personal/carer's leave if I am absent from work due to a bushfire?

When can I take personal/carer's leave?

You may take personal/carer's leave (often referred to as sick leave) if you are away from work because:

  • you are not fit for work due to a personal illness or injury
  • you are caring for an immediate family member, or a member of your household, who has an illness or injury or is affected by an unexpected emergency (for example, if your child's school is closed due to a bushfire).

What do I need to do?

If you need to take leave for one of the reasons listed above, you should tell your employer as soon as possible (ideally before your absence, if possible), and let them know how long you expect you will be away from work.

Your employer can ask you for evidence to prove the reason you took personal/carer's leave (for example, a medical certificate or a statutory declaration). You should provide any requested evidence to your employer  as soon as you are reasonably able to (and no longer than within 24 hours of your employer's request unless exceptional circumstances exist). Your employer may have specific requirements about what types of evidence they need and when they require you to provide it.

How much paid personal/carer's leave am I entitled to?

Under the National Employment Standards, full-time employees are entitled to 10 days of paid personal/carer's leave per year of service with their employer. Part-time employees are entitled to paid personal/carer's leave proportionate to their hours of work. Personal/carer's leave accrues during a year of service with your employer according to your ordinary hours of work and accumulates (carries over) from year to year.

Casual employees are not entitled to paid personal/carer's leave.

What if I don't have any paid personal/carer's leave?

If you do not have any accrued paid personal/carer's leave available, or if you are a casual employee and you are not entitled to paid personal/carer’s leave, you may request to take unpaid carer's leave or another form of leave.

You are eligible for up to two days of unpaid carer's leave on each occasion that a member of your immediate family or household requires care or support because of a personal illness or injury affecting that family member or because of unexpected emergency.

This applies to full-time, part-time and casual employees.

You should provide the same notice and evidence as if you were taking paid personal/carer’s leave.

If you could take paid personal/carer’s leave instead, you will not be permitted to take unpaid leave.

Can I take paid annual leave if I can't attend for work due to a bushfire?

When can I take paid annual leave?

If you have annual leave accrued, paid annual leave may be taken for a period agreed between you and your employer. If you cannot attend work due to a bushfire, you may ask your employer if you can take a period of your accrued annual leave. Your employer must not unreasonably refuse to agree to your request to take annual leave.

Whether or not it is 'unreasonable' for your employer to refuse a request for you to take annual leave will depend upon the surrounding circumstances. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, which require you to be at work, it is likely that a refusal by your employer to allow you to take paid annual leave due to a bushfire would be considered unreasonable.

How much paid annual leave am I entitled to?

Under the National Employment Standards, full-time employees are entitled to four weeks of paid annual leave per year of service. Part-time employees are entitled to paid annual leave proportionate to their hours of work. Annual leave accrues during a year of service according to your ordinary hours of work and accumulates (carries over) from year to year.

Casual employees are not entitled to annual leave.

Can my employer require me to use my accrued annual leave if I am absent from work due to a bushfire?

Under the National Employment Standards, your employer may require you to take some of your accrued annual leave, but only if that requirement is reasonable. What is reasonable depends on a range of factors, including how much annual leave you have accrued.

The position may be different if you are covered by a modern award or enterprise agreement.

Contact JobWatch or the Fair Work Ombudsman for more information about annual leave.

Can I take unpaid leave if I am absent from work due to a bushfire?

The National Employment Standards does not provide for an express entitlement to unpaid leave (other than in specific circumstances such as unpaid carer’s leave, parental leave and community service leave).

However, you may request a period of unpaid leave from your employer at any time. Your employer is not required to agree to this request and if they grant unpaid leave, it is at their discretion. During unpaid leave, your 'continuity of service' (how long you have worked for the company) is not broken. However, your entitlements under the National Employment Standards (for example, personal/carer's leave and annual leave) will not continue to accrue while you are on unpaid leave.

Can I take time off work to volunteer to fight bushfires?

If you volunteer to fight bushfires this may be 'community service' within the meaning given by the Fair Wok Act and so you may be able to take unpaid community service leave from work to volunteer.

When can I take community service leave?

Under the National Employment Standards, all employees are entitled to take unpaid community service leave to perform a 'voluntary emergency management activity' that involves dealing with an emergency or natural disaster, such as a bushfire. You are only permitted to take such leave if:

  • you engage in the activity on a voluntary basis; and 
  • you are a member of a recognised emergency management body (such as the Country Fire Authority); and
    • either that body asks you to participate in the activity; or 
    • it would be reasonable to expect that it is likely the request would have been made had the circumstances permitted (for example, to fight a rapidly spreading bushfire).

How much community service leave can I take?

There is no set limit on the amount of community service leave you can take. You are entitled to be absent from your employment:

  • for the time you are engaged in the eligible community service activity, including reasonable travelling time associated with the activity and reasonable rest time immediately following the activity, and
  • if the absence is reasonable in the all the circumstances.

What do I need to do?

If you want to take community service leave you must give your employer notice of your absence, and advise them of the expected duration of your absence, as soon as possible. Your employer may require you to provide evidence you are entitled to take the leave, such as a copy of the request for you to participate in the activity.

Will I be paid when I take community service leave?

Community service leave to fight bushfires is unpaid. However, a period of community service leave does not break your 'continuity of service' with your employer. If you take time off work to fight a fire as part of community service leave, the period of your leave will count as service with your employer. However, your entitlements under the National Employment Standards (for example, personal/carer's leave and annual leave) will not continue to accrue while you are on unpaid leave.

Can I be dismissed if I take community service leave?

It is unlawful under the Fair Work Act for an employer to dismiss you because you were temporarily absent from work to perform eligible community service activity where it was reasonable for you to be absent in the circumstances.

Contact JobWatch or the Fair Work Ombudsman to confirm your eligibility to take community service leave.

Can I take compassionate leave?

If a member of your immediate family or household dies or sustains an injury that poses a serious threat to their life, you may be entitled to two days of paid compassionate leave. Compassionate leave is for more severe circumstances than carer's leave. Only full-time or part-time employees are entitled to take paid compassionate leave. Casual employees will receive unpaid compassionate leave. You can take compassionate leave at any time while your immediate family member or member of your household has a life threatening illness or injury (eg, you do not need to take the leave as soon as your immediately family member becomes ill) . You may take compassionate leave as a single continuous two day period, or two separate periods of one day each.

You must give your employer notice when taking compassionate leave, and provide evidence of the reason fo the leave if requested.

You can take compassionate leave each time a member of your immediate family or household contracts or develops a personal illness or sustains a personal injury that poses a serious threat to his or her life

For more information about personal/carer's leave, compassionate leave and annual leave, you can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94.

What happens if my employer has to temporarily close due to a bushfire?

Can my employer require me to take paid annual leave if it temporarily closes due to a bushfire?

Under the Fair Work Act, your employer may require you to take a period of paid annual leave if it is reasonable for them to do so. Whether or not a requirement for you to take annual leave is reasonable will depend on the particular circumstances. It may be reasonable if there is a bushfire that forces the business to close. The position may be different if you are covered by a modern award or enterprise agreement.

Can my employer stand me down from work without pay?

Under the Fair Work Act, unless an applicable modern award or enterprise agreement provides otherwise, your employer can stand you down without pay (tell you not to come to work) for any period where you cannot be usefully employed for any reason for which the employer is not reasonably responsible (for example, if your employer's business is forced to close during or following a bushfire). You will not be entitled to be paid for the period you are stood down.

If you are stood down and your employer has not obeyed the law (for example, work did not actually stop or did not have to stop), you may be entitled to recover lost wages and entitlements.

During the stand-down period your 'continuity of service' (how long you have worked for the company) is not broken. The stand-down period counts as service for all purposes. Other entitlements continue to accrue during the stand-down period, including annual leave, personal leave and long service leave.

A stand-down period should only be temporary.

You can work for other employers during a stand-down but only if your employer agrees.

If you are unsure about how stand-downs affect your entitlements, please contact the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94.

If you have been stood down without pay, you may also wish to contact Centrelink on 13 28 50 to discuss the options available to you based on your circumstances.

Can I take annual leave if my employer has stood me down?

During a stand down period you can make a request to your employer that you either:

  • take paid annual leave
  • work at another location, such as from home, if you can reasonably compete work from home, if you can reasonably compete work from home.

Your employer must reasonably consider any request that you make to take paid annual leave, but is not obligated to agree to your request.

Will I still be paid if my employer has lost their business due to a bushfire?

Am I entitled to redundancy and severance pay?

If you are a full-time or part-time employee and your employer no longer requires the job you were doing to be done by anyone (for example, if the business will not be re-opened after a bushfire) then your job has been made redundant. If your job has been made redundant, you may be entitled to redundancy pay (sometimes known as severance pay). To be entitled to redundancy pay under the National Employment Standards, you must been employed by the business for at least 12 months and the business must have more than 15 employees.

You may be entitled to redundancy pay in accordance with the National Employment Standards as follows.

Period of continuous service with employer

Redundancy entitlement

At least 1 year, but less than 2 years

4 weeks

At least 2 years, but less than 3 years

6 weeks

At least 3 years, but less than 4 years

7 weeks

At least 4 years, but less than 5 years

8 weeks

At least 5 years, but less than 6 years

10 weeks

At least 6 years, but less than 7 years

11 weeks

At least 7 years, but less than 8 years

13 weeks

At least 8 years, but less than 9 years

14 weeks

At least 9 years, but less than 10 years

16 weeks

At least 10 years

12 weeks

You may be entitled to a more generous redundancy payment if an applicable modern award, enterprise agreement or your employment contract provides you with an additional entitlement.

If you are unsure whether you are covered by a modern award or enterprise agreement or want more information about redundancy and severance or redundancy pay, contact JobWatch on (03) 9662 1933 or the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94.

If you have been made redundant but believe your employer still requires your job to be performed by someone else, you may have been unfairly dismissed. Unfair dismissal claims must be filed with the Fair Work Commission within 21 days after the dismissal takes effect. Contact the Fair Work Commission on 1300 799 675 for further information.

Will I be given notice of my termination or pay in lieu of notice?

If you are a full-time or part-time employee and your employment is terminated (ended) your employer must give you at least the minimum period of notice of termination you are entitled to under the National Employment Standards unless you were dismissed for serious misconduct or your employment has ended at the conclusion of a specified (agreed) task or period of time (eg, if you were employed on a fixed term contract for a specific period of time).

Your employer may choose to make a payment in lieu of notice to you instead of requiring you to work out the notice period.

Under the National Employment Standards, the minimum notice periods are as follows:

Period of continuous service with employer

Notice period

Not more than 1 year

1 week

More than 1 year, but not more than 3 years

2 weeks

More than 1 year, but not more than 5 years

3 weeks

More than 5 years

4 weeks

If you are over 45 and have completed more than two years of service with your employer, you are entitled to an additional week of notice.

You may also be entitled to receive other payments on termination, such as payment of any accrued but untaken annual leave or accrued but untaken long service leave. 

What if I don't receive my entitlements?

If you do not receive notice of termination or pay in lieu or redundancy pay (if your employment was terminated because of redundancy), or if your employer does not make a payment to you for your accrued but untaken annual leave on termination, you may make a complaint to the Fair Work Ombudsman. You should do this as soon as possible. If your entitlement comes from an enterprise agreement or contract of employment you may also file a claim with the Fair Work Ombudsman. If you are not sure what document applies, you should seek assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman.

If the Fair Work Ombudsman cannot assist you to recover your pay in lieu of notice, or if you choose to take direct legal action against your former employer, any legal proceedings to recover your pay in lieu of notice or other entitlement must be commenced within six years of the date that entitlement was due to be paid to you.

For more information about notice of termination (failure to give notice or pay in lieu), redundancy pay, payment of accrued leave, or other payments due on termination of employment, visit the JobWatch website or call JobWatch on (03) 9662 1933 (Melbourne callers) or 1800 331 617 (country callers) or contact the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94.

What if I don't have a job anymore?

Can I make an unfair dismissal claim?

If you think you were not legitimately made redundant (ie your employer still requires your job to be performed) or that the termination of your employment was otherwise harsh, unjust or unreasonable, you may be eligible to make an unfair dismissal claim. As an employee of a small business, you may make an unfair dismissal claim if you have been employed by the business for more than 12 months. If you have been employed by a business with more than 15 employees, you may make an unfair dismissal claim if you have been employed by the business for more than six months. Any unfair dismissal claim must be made within 21 days of the date your dismissal took effect.

Can I make a general protections claim?

If you are dismissed or disadvantaged by your employer for a discriminatory reason (for example because of your race, sex, age, family or carer's responsibilities, etc), or because you have made a complaint or inquiry about your workplace rights or sought to exercise your workplace rights (for example, your entitlement to take paid or unpaid leave in accordance with the National Employment Standards), you may be able to make a claim known as a general protections claim under the Fair Work Act. Any general protections claim involving termination of your employment must be made within 21 days of the date that you are dismissed.

If you have suffered some other disadvantage (eg lost shifts) for one of these reasons, you must make a general protections claim within six years of that disadvantage.

Where should I go for more information?

For more information on unfair dismissal, general protections dispute claims and recent changes to the law, visit the JobWatch website or call JobWatch on (03) 9662 1933 (Melbourne callers) or 1800 331 617 (country callers) or contact the Fair Work Commission on 1300 799 675.

You may also like to contact Centrelink on 13 28 50 to discuss the options available to you based on your circumstances.

What if I am covered by an award or an enterprise agreement?

In addition to the provisions in the National Employment Standards discussed on this page, you may have other entitlements under a modern award or enterprise agreement which may be relevant if you are unable to attend work due to a bushfire.

If you are not sure whether you are covered by a modern award or enterprise agreement, you should call the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94.

Where to get help

Legal

JobWatch

Tel: 1800 331 617 (regional) or (03) 9662 1933 (metro), Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, Wednesday until 8.30 pm
www.jobwatch.org.au

General

Fair Work Commission

Tel: 1300 799 675, Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm
www.fwc.gov.au

Fair Work Ombudsman

Tel: 13 13 94, Monday to Friday, 8 am to 5.30 pm
www.fairwork.gov.au

WorkSafe Victoria

Tel: 1800 136 089 (advisory line) and 13 23 60 (24/7 emergency line), Monday to Friday, 7.30 am to 6.30 pm
www.worksafe.vic.gov.au

Victoria Legal Aid

Tel: 1300 792 387, Monday to Friday, 8 am to 5 pm
www.legalaid.vic.gov.au

Counselling and support

NURSE-ON-CALL

Tel: 1300 606 024, 24 hours, seven days
www2.health.vic.gov.au/primary-and-community-health/primary-care/nurse-on-call

Beyond Blue

Tel: 1300 224 636, 24 hours, seven days
www.beyondblue.org.au

Interpreters and hearing impairment

Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS)

Tel: 131 450, 24 hours, seven days
www.tisnational.gov.au

National Relay Service

Tel: 133 677 (TTY service) and 1300 555 727 (speak and listen), 24 hours, seven days
www.relayservice.gov.au