Unpaid pandemic leave

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WA image icon This information is only relevant to employers and employees in the WA state industrial relations system – sole traders, unincorporated partnerships, unincorporated trusts, local government and some incorporated or not for profit organisations. Find out more on the Guide to who is in the WA state system page.

If you operate or are employed by a Pty Ltd business – you can find information on this topic on the Fair Work Ombudsman website.

To assist private sector employers and employees address the impacts of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on their workplaces, the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission issued General Orders in April 2020 and March 2022.

Although these General Orders no longer apply, employers and employees are still able to agree that an employee will take a period of unpaid leave.

COVID-19 Flexible Leave Arrangements General Order April 2020 – March 2021

The COVID-19 Flexible Leave Arrangements General Order provided for unpaid pandemic leave and annual leave flexibilities for private sector state system employees.

The COVID-19 Flexible Leave Arrangements General Order ceased to have effect on 31 March 2021. 

COVID-19 General Order March 2022 to January 2023

The COVID-19 General Order provided for two weeks’ unpaid pandemic leave for private sector state system employees

The COVID-19 General Order ceased to have effect on 31 January 2023. 

Unpaid pandemic leave and leave entitlements (other than long service leave)

Unpaid pandemic leave taken in accordance with either the previous COVID-19 Flexible Leave Arrangements General Order or COVID-19 General Order does not affect any other paid or unpaid leave entitlement of an employee and counts as service for the purposes of entitlements.

Both of the General Orders override any WA award clause that is less beneficial. This means that even if an applicable WA award states that unpaid leave does not count as service, unpaid leave taken in accordance with the previous COVID-19 General Order or COVID-19 Flexible Leave Arrangements General Order will be counted as service.

Unpaid pandemic leave and long service leave accrual

To be entitled to long service leave under the Long Service Leave Act 1958, an employee’s employment with their employer must be continuous. The amount of long service leave is determined by the employee’s period of continuous employment.

Under the Long Service Leave Act, there are some types of absences that do not break an employee’s continuous employment, but do not count towards an employee’s period of employment for the purposes of accruing long service leave. 

For employees in the state system, the effect on long service leave accrual of unpaid pandemic leave taken in accordance with the previous COVID-19 Flexible Leave Arrangements General Order or COVID-19 General Order will depend on whether a WA award applies, and if so, the nature of any long service leave provisions in the applicable award. More detail is provided below.

Unpaid leave taken for a COVID-19 related reason which was NOT taken in accordance with one of the General Orders providing for unpaid pandemic leave is treated the same way as other unpaid leave – that is, it will not count towards an employee’s period of continuous employment for accruing long service leave, but will not break the employee’s continuous employment.

It should be noted that if an employee was on unpaid leave, whether taken in accordance with a General Order or not, and received a payment such as the WA Government’s COVID-19 Test Isolation Payment or the Federal Government’s Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, then the period for which the employee received payment will count towards the employee’s period of continuous employment.

Award free employees

Unpaid pandemic leave taken by private sector award free employees in accordance with the previous COVID-19 General Order or COVID-19 Flexible Leave Arrangements General Order does not count towards an employee’s period of employment for accruing long service leave but does not break the employee’s continuous employment.

WA award employees

For private sector WA award employees, whether unpaid pandemic leave taken in accordance with the previous COVID-19 General Order or COVID-19 Flexible Leave Arrangements General Order counts towards an employee’s period of continuous employment for accruing long service leave depends on the provisions of the relevant WA award.

  • If the WA award contains a long service leave clause which specifies that an employee is entitled to long service leave in accordance with the Long Service Leave Act, the Long Service Leave General Order (which applied to WA award employees prior to 2006), or some other arrangement, then a period of unpaid pandemic leave does count towards an employee’s period of employment for accruing long service leave.
  • If the relevant WA award does not contain a long service leave clause, then a period of unpaid pandemic leave does not count towards an employee’s period of employment for accruing long service leave but it does not break the employee’s continuous employment.

All WA awards are available on the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission website or you can contact Wageline on 1300 655 266 for award specific information.

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