It’s the start of a new year and many businesses have shut down over the Christmas and New Year period with employees taking leave during this time. Even though it may be only a week or two, returning to work and managing leave balances, new leave requests or employees who are not returning to work can be a challenge!

Managing leave requests in the new year

Many employees will have minimal or no annual leave balance after this time off, so if an employee now requests leave but has an insufficient leave balance, employers will need to consider if they will grant the request, provide leave without pay, or advance paid leave to the employee.

Making a decision around approving leave requests when there is insufficient balance will depend on each individual case and take into account things like how much notice is given by the employee, how much time off is requested, how decisions are communicated and the operational requirements of the business.

Unpaid leave or Leave without pay

You may consider granting your employee unpaid leave, there is no general entitlement to unpaid leave under the Fair Work Act instead this is a discussion and agreement with the employee and the employee doesn’t accrue leave when they are on this type of unpaid leave.

Annual leave in advance

An alternative option is to provide the employee with Annual leave in advanced. Annual Leave in advanced is when an employee takes a period of paid leave before the employee has accrued an entitlement to the leave. Guidelines regarding annual leave in advance are set out in the Awards and enterprise agreements.

What if the employee is terminated or resigns?

If the employee resigns or is terminated prior to accruing the entitlement to all of the period of paid annual leave already taken you can deduct the amount in the employee’s final pay. The amount deducted must be equal to the amount that was paid to the employee for the period of annual leave taken in advance where the entitlement had not yet accrued.

What do you do if an employee doesn’t return from leave?

This is not an issue that arises often you but may find yourself in a situation where your employee does not return after authorised leave and the employee has potentially abandoned their employment, this situation can be difficult to know how to manage depending on how this absence is or isn’t communicated. Head to our article that covers Abandonment of Employment for more information.

Border Closures

As our governments respond to the changing Covid-19 situation, Australian state and territory borders have been temporarily closing with requirements to isolate on return to the state.  As these changes can come with little notice, some employees who have travelled during their time off may be unable to attend work as usual on their return from leave.

Should you find an employee in this situation there are a number of alternative working arrangements to consider that will help employers and employees manage the impacts of Covid-19 border closures or self-isolating requirements. Depending on what is being mandated at the time examples include flexible start and finish times to accommodate different time zones or working from home or at an alternate location, e.g. in the hotel where they are isolating.

There are many benefits to making these flexible working arrangements available to your staff including an increase in creativity, morale and loyalty to the business. Click here for more information on managing flexible working arrangements.

Leave during border closures

You may be in a position where flexible working arrangements are not suitable and the employee returning from interstate travel is unable to perform the duties of their role remotely. To help manage this impact of coronavirus, there have been changes to some awards including Pandemic Leave that may apply. How leave is managed will depend on whether the employee knowingly travelled when a border restriction was in place, or whether the closure was enforced after they travelled. The employee may be required to take unpaid leave or use their annual leave during any period of isolation that would prevent them from working.

If you’re unsure how to manage leave requests, employees not returning to work as planned after taking time off, or what your obligations are around Covid-19 related situations, get in touch with our specialist team via the chat box here or calling 08 6150 0043.

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