The Federal Court has rejected an application by unions for stood-down Qantas employees to have access to their paid personal leave entitlements including sick leave, carer’s leave, and compassionate leave. Qantas employees who were stood down due to COVID-19 can only access their annual and long service leave entitlements.
Three unions lodged a dispute in the Federal Court claiming that the Fair Work Act 2009 prevented employers from cutting off access to these payments during a stand-down. The unions also claimed that because employees were taking approved paid or unpaid leave they were not regarded as stood down. They cited cases of employees who were suffering from serious illnesses and claimed the lack of access to personal leave payments was disadvantaging them.
However, the federal court upheld Qantas’ decision stating that personal leave entitlements were a form of income protection that require employees to be receiving income to be eligible for. Because there was no work to perform and subsequently no income, there was no income to protect. The decision was made to protect employers from having to payout and protect their employees. Since the decision unions have urged Qantas to voluntarily allow personal leave.
The repercussions of this decision are that when employees are stood down, they can access their annual and long service leave entitlements however, employers are not obliged to allow access to paid personal leave entitlements. This is because in a stand-down there is no income to be protected and employees do not have to be authorised to be absent from work.
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Written by Danielle McNamee