Sick leave Australia: What you’re entitlted to and when
Full-time employees are entitled to 10 days of paid sick leave in Australia – but you might be eligible for other benefits too.
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Getting sick can be a big hassle, especially when it gets in the way of everyday life and your work. Luckily, in Australia employers are obligated to allow their workers time off to recover from illness. If you are a part-time or full-time worker you are even entitled to a certain number of paid sick days.
It can be distressing when you might have to miss out on work due to an illness, thankfully there are protections for workers in Australia to help reduce the stress. It's always important to take care of your self, so we put together this guide to help you understand your rights and entitlements when it comes to sick leave.
What are sick leave entitlements in Australia?
If you are unable to work due to illness or injury, your sick leave entitlements are the amount of time you are legally allowed to take off without repercussions. There are a few different types of sick leave entitlements in Australia; some are paid, others are not. Here's an overview of what you are entitled to:
Paid sick and carer's leave – 10 days
Sick and carer's leave fall under the same leave entitlement. Full-time employees are entitled to 10 days of leave each year. The balance of leave you acquire each year also carries over into the next year. Part-time employees get pro rata of 10 days each year based on how many hours they work.
Unpaid sick leave – 3 months
Once you've run out of paid sick leave, if you're still unable to work due to illness or injury you can take unpaid sick leave for up to three months. You can't be fired for taking unpaid sick leave provided you've been off work for less than three months and you can supply evidence of your illness or injury.
Unpaid carer's leave – 2 days
If you don't have any paid sick and carer's leave left, you get two days of unpaid carer's leave each time you need to provide care for a family or household member.
Compassionate and bereavement leave – 2 days
All employees are entitled to two days of compassionate and bereavement leave each time a member of their immediate family or household dies or suffers a life-threatening illness or injury.
What other types of leave am I entitled to?
There are a few types of sick leave in Australia that you may be entitled to:
- Sick and carer's leave: If you're an employee, you can take carer's leave if you need to take time off work to care for a member of your immediate family or household who is sick, injured or experiences an unexpected emergency. Keep in mind that this is considered the same as sick leave.
- Compassionate and bereavement leave: All employees are entitled to compassionate and bereavement leave when a member of their immediate family or household dies or suffers a life-threatening illness or injury.
- Unpaid sick leave: Once you have run out of paid sick leave, you can take unpaid leave if you are still unable to work due to illness or injury.
- Unpaid carer's leave: You can take unpaid carer's leave when an immediate family member or household member is sick, injured or experiences an unexpected emergency. This type of leave is used if you have run out of paid sick and carer's leave.
Carer's leave and who it applies to
To qualify for paid or unpaid carer's leave, you'll need to be taking time off work to care for or support an immediate family member or a member of your household. A member of your household is anyone who lives with you, while an immediate family member is a:
- Former spouse
- De facto partner
- Former de facto partner
- Child, parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of your spouse or de facto partner, or former spouse or de facto partner
Please note that step-relations and adoptive relations are also included in the above definition.
How this compares globally
Compared to other countries, sick leave is quite good in Australia. For example, in the UK, you only get £94.25 per week for statutory sick pay (SSP) if you're too ill to work. While it's paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks, it's well below the average income and you need to have been off work sick for 4 or more days in a row to be eligible. Similarly, there's no national requirement in the US to offer paid sick leave, although several states have their own laws. It's a federal law in Australia, which means the eligibility and entitlements are the same throughout Australia.
What to do if you need long term sick leave
If you need long term sick leave in Australia, you have a few options. These include:
- Know your rights and responsibilities. You can take as much paid sick leave as you have accumulated if you are not fit for work because you are ill or injured. The total time off must be less than 3 consecutive months, or a total of less than 3 months off over a 12 month period. You're no longer protected from being dismissed if you are off for longer than this.
- Speak to your employer. It's important to keep your employer informed about your situation. This is the best way to ensure that you keep your job if you are off for longer than 3 months.
- Get income protection. In most cases, you won't have enough paid sick leave to cover your bills and daily living expenses for long term leave. Income protection is a sure-fire way to prevent any unwanted financial stress should you need to take a long time off work for a number of reasons. It can also pay you for up to 5 years.
- Medical evidence. It's a good idea to keep a hold of any evidence that supports your need to be off from work. This can come in handy if you need to provide medical information before you can return to work after an extended period of sick leave. It's also usually necessary to provide evidence that you cannot work to your income protection insurer when you make a claim.
In fact, a 2017 finder.com.au survey found that in the past 5 years, almost half a million Australians were forced to take unpaid leave in order to recover from a sporting injury, while 178,000 had to leave the workforce completely due to their injuries.
While the sick leave you've accumulated might seem like a lot, you might be surprised just how quickly you can use it all up. When that happens, you'll need to find some other way to provide financial support for your family.
Do I need income protection if I have sick leave?
This is a common question for Australian employees. If you were to suffer a serious illness or injury, would you have enough sick leave to cover your time off work until you recover?
While you might have enough paid sick leave to let you take a few days off when you're struck down by a stomach bug, what would happen if you were seriously injured in a car accident or suffered a heart attack and couldn't work for six months or more? In cases like these, you may find that you are forced to take unpaid sick leave. That's where income protection insurance can come in.
By having income protection you could feel comfortable knowing that if you were unable to work because of a long term sickness or injury, you would still have an income to help you with your living expenses. You can use the table below to look at your income protection options and see how they can help in addition to your sick leave entitlements.
Look at income protection insurance options
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