Published 29 May 2020 | Updated 13 May 2024

Find out what options are available to employees who need to self-isolate because of COVID-19.

Employees who can’t go to work because of COVID-19

Employees can’t go to work if they need to self-isolate, for example, because they:

  • have COVID-19
  • are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19 
  • need to get tested or are waiting for a COVID-19 test result
  • are prohibited from leaving their home because of an enforceable government direction.

If an employee can’t work because they have to self-isolate, they should contact their employer immediately to discuss:

Employees may be able to use paid or unpaid carer’s leave to care for a family member or a member of their household who has COVID-19. Carer’s leave may also be available if there’s an unexpected emergency.

Employees have a responsibility, under workplace health and safety laws, to take reasonable care not to adversely affect the health and safety of others at work. This means that an employee can't be dismissed or injured in their employment if they need to self-isolate to avoid the risk of spreading the virus in the workplace. Find out more about protections at work.

Employees can request to not go to work because of a health condition that puts them at higher risk of getting COVID-19.

Taking sick or carer's leave

If an employee is sick with COVID-19 or needs to care for a family or household member, they may be able to take paid or unpaid sick or carer’s leave.

Full-time and part-time employees

Full-time and part-time employees can take paid sick leave if they can’t work because they’re sick with COVID-19. They can also take paid carer’s leave when they need to look after an immediate family or household member who is sick with COVID-19 or has an unexpected emergency. If they don’t have any paid sick or carer’s leave left, they can take 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave on each occasion. See Paid sick and carer’s leave and Unpaid carer’s leave.

An employee needs to let their employer know as soon as possible and give reasonable evidence that they aren’t fit for work, if their employer asks for it. Learn more at Notice and medical certificates.

If an employee can’t take sick or carer’s leave, they should discuss their situation and other options with their employer. This could include using annual leave or long service leave.

Casual employees

Casual employees aren’t entitled to paid sick or carer’s leave. They are paid a casual loading instead of accumulating paid leave entitlements.

Casuals who need to care for an immediate family member or household member who is sick can take 2 days of unpaid carer’s leave on each occasion. Notice and evidence requirements can apply. See Unpaid carer’s leave.

If a casual employee is sick and can’t attend work, they should discuss their options with their employer. This may include staying away until they’re well.

Accessing leave during self-isolation

An employee who is required to self-isolate because of an enforceable government direction should contact their employer to discuss leave options or flexible working arrangements. This could include:

An employee who is on, or decides to take, annual leave during a self-isolation period can instead take their accrued sick leave if they become ill or injured. The usual rules for taking sick leave apply including:

  • letting their employer know as soon as possible
  • providing evidence (if required by the employer).

For more information, see our Paid sick and carer’s leave page and our Library article Sick leave during annual leave.

Pay during self-isolation

Employees working from home during self-isolation have to be paid for the work they’re doing.

Full-time and part-time employees should also be paid their normal pay if:

  • their employer directs them to stay home
  • they don't have COVID-19
  • they are ready, willing and able to work.

Employees aren’t entitled to be paid (unless they use paid leave entitlements) if they can’t work because:

  • an enforceable government direction requires them to self-isolate,
  • government-imposed travel restrictions are in place (for example, they’re stuck overseas), or
  • they have COVID-19.

Employers should consider any award, agreement, employment contracts or workplace policies that apply, because they could be more generous.

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