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Leaves and time off in Australia

Every country has its own rules and requirements for the paid leave that employers have to grant their employees. In Australia, paid time off includes annual leave (holidays), sick leave, parental leave, and public holidays. By the end of this guide, you’ll understand everything you need to know to properly manage paid time off in Australia.

Leave policy in Australia

Statutory entitlements for paid time off in Australia are set out in the National Employment Standards (NES). Employees covered by a modern award, or other registered agreement may also have different entitlements, which may be more generous.

Statutory leave entitlements

The NES state that all employees in Australia are entitled to four weeks (20 days) of paid annual leave. Awards, enterprise agreements and other registered agreements can provide for more annual leave than the NES, but they can’t offer less. Equally, individual employees can create their own annual leave policy that grants employees more than four weeks’ annual leave, but they can’t give them any less than this.

Annual leave for full-time and part-time employees is based on their ordinary hours of work. For example, a part-time employee who works 20 hours a week will accumulate 80 hours of annual leave during the course of a year (the equivalent of four weeks of work). There are different rules for shift workers, who may get up to five weeks of annual leave per pear. This depends on the award or agreement they are covered by.

Sick leave policies in Australia

Full-time and part-time employees in Australia can take up to 10 days paid sick or carer’s leave per year, based on their ordinary hours of work. This allows them to take time off work to deal with:

  • Illnesses or injuries
  • Caring responsibilities
  • Family emergencies

Casual employees don’t have the right to paid sick or carer’s leave, but they can access two days’ unpaid carer’s leave whenever they need it.

Personal leave encashment policies

In certain circumstances, employees can ‘cash out’ annual leave they have not taken at the end of the year, which means they get paid for the leave instead of taking it. Whether or not this is possible depends on whether the award or registered agreement covering the employee allows it. If it does, employees can usually only cash out their unused leave if:

  • They have at least four weeks annual leave left over
  • There is a written agreement between the employer and the employee

If an employee is not covered by an award, they can still come to an agreement with their employer that allows them to cash out unused annual leave. The employer has to agree to this in writing in a personal leave encashment policy.

Paid time off for casual workers in Australia

Casual employees typically don’t have the right to any paid days off. Because of this, employers who hire casual workers have to pay them at least an additional 25% on top of their normal wages. This is called a ‘casual loading’..’ Casual employees do have the right to two days’ unpaid sick or carer’s leave and two day’s unpaid bereavement leave whenever they need it.

Maternity, paternity, and parental leave

Maternity, paternity, and parental leave are leaves that are granted to employees in Australia when they or their partner give birth, or when they adopt a child. The requirements for granting parental leave to employees are set out in the NES.

Unpaid parental leave

Australian employees are entitled to up to 12 months of unpaid leave after either they or their partner gives birth. This may be referred to as maternity or paternity leave in Australia. They can also ask to extend their leave for another 12 months. Employees can take this leave if they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months.

Eligibility for maternity, paternity, and parental leave in Australia

Eligible employees can take unpaid parental leave when:

  • They give birth
  • Their spouse or de facto partner gives birth
  • They adopt a child under 16 years of age

To be eligible for maternity, paternity or parental leave, employees must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months. These employees can take up to 12 months of unpaid parental leave and can ask to extend their leave by an additional 12 months.

How maternity and parental leave works

Employees taking unpaid parental leave have to take it within 24 months of the birth or placement of the child. They can take it as a single, continuous period, flexibly for up to 100 days, or a combination of both. Employees can start their leave from six weeks before the expected date of birth (or more with their employer’s agreement). Employees who want to take parental leave have to give their employer written notice of their leave, including the expected start date and end date. This generally has to be given at least 10 weeks before the expected start date.

Flexible parental leave

Employees in Australia can take up to 100 days of their parental leave flexibly. That means they can take one or more days of leave off work using their parental leave entitlement. The total of both flexible and continuous leave can’t be more than 12 months unless their leave is extended.

Maternity, paternity, and parental leave for casual employees

Casual employees are also eligible for unpaid parental leave, as long as they have worked for their employer on a regular and systematic basis for at least a year and have a reasonable expectation of this work continuing.

Pay for parental leave in Australia

Eligible employees can get paid parental leave pay from the Australian government (under the Paid Parental Leave scheme) or their employer, or both.

Adoption leave

Maternity, paternity, and parental leave is also available to employees who adopt a child, as long as that child is under 16 years old. This is sometimes known as adoption leave. The conditions needed for them to take this leave are the same as those for birth parents.

How adoption leave works

Like with parental leave for birth parents, employees who are planning to adopt a child must notify their employer of their intention to take adoption leave at least 10 weeks before the expected start date. They can then take up to 12 months of adoption leave, and can ask to extend it for an additional 12 months.

Adoption leave pay in Australia

There have recently been some changes to the way parental leave pay is calculated for parents in Australia, whether they give birth to a child or adopt. For children born or adopted after 1 July 2023 but before 1 July 2024, Parents can take up to 100 days of parental leave pay. As of 1 July 2024, this has been increased to 110 days.

When two parents both take parental leave, this pay is divided between them. The birth parent or primary carer often takes most of the pay, but 10 days are reserved for their partner. Families can also decide to split the paid parental leave however they like.

Dad and Partner Pay

Dad and Partner Pay is a previous payment made to the partners of those giving birth or adopting a child, to take care of their child for up to two weeks. This payment has now been combined with parental leave pay.

Flexible parental leave

Like birth parents, adoptive parents in Australia can choose to take up to 100 days of their parental leave flexibly, as long as the total period of leave isn’t more than 12 months. For example, if a parent chooses to go back to work after six months of parental leave, they could take off 100 additional days as flexible parental leave during the next six months. These can be taken as individual days or in blocks. An employee can also ask to extend their unpaid adoption leave by up to 12 months.

Other leaves

Australian employees are also entitled to several other leaves according to the NES. Certain awards and registered agreements may also provide for different types of leave, or grant the employee more generous leave than the NES. Employees can also decide to offer their employees additional paid time off according to their paid time off policy.

Compassionate leave

The NES grant all employees the right to compassionate leave, including casual employees. This is also known as bereavement leave. Compassionate leave can be taken when:

  • A member of the employee’s immediate family dies or contracts a life-threatening illness
  • A baby in the employee’s household or family is stillborn
  • The employee or their spouse has a miscarriage

Eligible employees can take two days compassionate leave every time one of the above situations occurs. For casual employees, this leave is unpaid, but permanent employees should be paid at their base rate for the hours they would ordinarily work. It’s not possible to cash out compassionate leave.

Family and domestic violence leave

All employees are entitled to up to 10 days of family and domestic violence leave each year. This leave is available to anyone experiencing violent, threatening, or abusive behaviour from either a close relative, a member of their household or a current or former partner. All employees, including casual employees, should be paid for this leave at their normal rate of pay.

Community service leave

Community service leave is a type of leave that employees can take off work for jury duty or emergency management activities. For example, an employee may take time off work to deal with an emergency or natural disaster. Community service leave of this type is usually unpaid. However, when an employee takes time off work for jury duty, their employer has to make up the difference between the payments they receive from the court and their normal pay rate.

Long service leave

Long service leave is a type of leave that employees in Australia can take if they’ve worked for the same employer for a long time. Laws in each state and territory determine how long an employee has to be working to be eligible for long service leave, and how much long service leave they get.

Unlimited paid time off

Some employers in Australia now offer their employees unlimited paid time off. When employers have an unlimited paid time off policy, employees can take as much annual leave as they want, and each day will be paid. Of course, these policies require a certain level of trust, but it can be extremely valuable in attracting and retaining employees.

Public holidays in Australia

In Australia, public holidays are days when all employees are entitled to have a day off work. Employers can ask employees to work on a public holiday if the request is ‘reasonable,’ but employees can also refuse if their reason for refusing is ‘reasonable.’ There are no strict guidelines as to what counts as reasonable, but you should consider things like the needs of the business and whether the employee will receive additional pay for working on the public holiday.

Pay for public holidays

Full-time and part-time permanent employees who don’t work on a public holiday get paid their normal rate of pay. If employees do work on a public holiday, the rules about what they should be paid are outlined in their award or registered agreement.

For example, employees may be entitled to a ‘penalty rate,’ which is an additional payment for working on a public holiday. They may also be given an extra day off in exchange for working the public holiday. Employers can also decide to set their own public holiday policy which determines how employees will be compensated if they are asked to work on a public holiday.

Public holidays while employees are on leave

If a public employee falls when an employee is on leave, it must be paid as a public holiday. Essentially, this means that the employee should be paid for the hours they would have worked that day, and it should not be deducted from their leave balance.

Public holidays in 2024

Public holidays in Australia are different depending on the state or territory you work in. Here are the public holidays observed in 2024:

1 January
New Year’s Day
26 January
Australia Day
29 March
Good Friday
30 March
Easter Saturday (except TAS & WA)
31 March
Easter Sunday (except NT, SA & TAS)
1 April
Easter Monday
25 April
Anzac Day
10 June
King’s Birthday (except QLD & WA)
7 October
Labour Day (ACT. NSW & SA)
25 December
Independence Day
26 December
Boxing Day (except SA)

Protect your employees and your business

As an employer in Australia, you need to understand your employees’ rights and entitlements. But keeping up with them can be a lot of work.

When you hire workers with CXC, we’ll ensure your engagements are in line with all local, national and international employment regulations. That way, your workers will get their benefits they’re entitled to, and your business will be protected from risk.

Compliantly hire employees anywhere with CXC

With our EoR solution, you can engage workers anywhere in the world, without putting your business at risk. No more worrying about local labour laws, tax legislation or payroll customs — we’ve got you covered.

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