Sick lady on couch

Sick leave in Australia

Is sick leave enough if you have a serious injury or illness?

When you’re sick, being able to take time off work to get better is a critical part of the recovery process. This is also the case when one of your family members is seriously ill or injured, as you may need to take some time off work to provide the care and support they need.

So, what types of leave are available in the above scenarios and do they provide enough cover? Let’s take a closer look.

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How much leave am I entitled to?

Paid sick and carer’s leave - 10 days

Sick and carer’s leave fall under the same leave entitlement, and 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 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

Types of sick and carer’s leave

There are a few types of leave you need to be aware of:

  • Paid sick and carer’s leave: If you’re an employee, you can take sick and carer’s leave when you are ill or injured, or when 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Who is classified as an immediate family member or household member?

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:

  • Spouse
  • Former spouse
  • De facto partner
  • Former de facto partner
  • Child
  • Parent
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Sibling
  • 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.

Who is eligible for paid sick leave?

To be eligible for paid sick leave, you’ll need to be a full-time or part-time employee who is unable to work due to illness or injury. It’s worth noting that this includes illness related to stress and pregnancy, and that you have the freedom to take as much paid sick and carer’s leave as you have accumulated. There is no minimum or maximum limit on the amount of paid sick leave you can take at any one time (provided you have accrued sufficient leave days).

Casual employees are not entitled to paid sick and carer’s leave.

Is sick leave enough?

This is a common question for Australian employees. If you were to suffer a serious illness or injury, would you have enough sick leave saved up to cover your time off work until you recover?

The answer for many people is “probably not”. While you might have accumulated 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 fact, a 2017 finder.com.au survey found that in the past five 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.

This is why it’s worth considering income protection insurance.

What is income protection insurance?

Income protection insurance provides an ongoing monthly benefit to replace up to 75% of your income when you’re unable to work due to illness or injury. You also get to choose the period for which your policy continues to pay a benefit – some policies pay a benefit for a fixed period, such as 2 or 5 years, while others will pay a benefit until you reach a certain age, usually 65.

If you have income protection cover, you can rest assured that you’ll still be able to provide for your family when you’re unable to work. Instead of worrying about your sick leave entitlements and how you’ll be able to pay the bills, income protection insurance allows you to get on with your life and simply focus on getting back to work.

Why understanding how much leave you have is crucial

Darren is a surveyor who works as a full-time employee for a large firm. When one of his workmates decides to buy income protection insurance, Darren wonders whether he could also benefit from cover.

He only has three weeks of accumulated paid sick leave he can take, as well as five weeks of annual leave he can use if it’s absolutely necessary. With a combined total of eight weeks leave to call on, Darren thinks he’ll be fine if he ever needs time off work due to sickness or injury, so he decides not to bother with income protection cover.

But when Darren is seriously injured in a car accident, he’s looking at a minimum of six months before he’ll be fit to return to work. Once he’s used up all his paid leave, that means Darren will still have four months when he will be off work and unable to earn an income. And with next to no savings to his name, Darren will face significant financial hardship in the months ahead.

This is why it’s essential to know exactly how much sick leave you have, not to mention whether that leave will be enough to help you and your family, before deciding whether or not you need income protection cover.

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Tim Falk

A freelance writer with a passion for the written word, Tim loves helping Australians find the right home loans and savings accounts. When he's not chained to a computer, Tim can usually be found exploring the great outdoors.

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