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Here are your rights when it comes to sick days in Australia

We've all "chucked a sickie" before, but what does the law have to say on the matter?

Written by
Joe Cutcliffe
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
October 16, 2023
min read
Here are your rights when it comes to sick days in Australia
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“Chucking a sickie” is about as Aussie as the Hills Hoist or threatening to kill Johnny Depp’s dogs, and that hallowed tradition of slyly getting off work under the guise of gastro to go to the beach is a protected part of our national fabric.

It's also great to live in a country where if you do genuinely get crook there are legal protections to make sure you’re financially protected during times of ill health.

That said, the actual rules which surround sick days in Australia have been miscommunicated over the years, and lines can easily get blurred when everybody in the room thinks they’re a lawyer: another classic Aussie tradition.

What exactly is the go with chucking a sickie?

If you are a full-time or part-time employee, you are entitled to ten days a year of paid personal/carers leave, which is accrued throughout your time as an employee. If you or a family member falls ill, you are able to take time off work without losing any dosh from your pay packet.

If you are unfortunately sick for a LONG period of time, you are also entitled to take up to three months off work. This is unpaid leave, so you won’t get your regular pay as you would with normal sick leave, but it does guarantee you job security in the instance of serious injury or illness.

“Carers” part of personal/carers leave entails.

This is exactly what it sounds like, and means that you can use any or all of those ten days to look after an immediate family member or a member of your household.

If you’re required to care for somebody for longer than you have accrued sick leave, you can also get up to three months of unpaid leave.

Under the relevant legislation, an immediate family member is defined as:

  • A spouse or former spouse;
  • A de facto partner or former de facto partner;
  • A child;
  • A parent;
  • A grandparent;
  • A grandchild;
  • A sibling, or;
  • A child, parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of the employee's spouse or de facto partner (or former spouse or de facto partner).

This law also provides for step-relations as well as adoptive relations.

Under the law, a “household member” is simply defined as any person who lives with the employee, so maybe hit up your housemate who works at a bank next time you’re bailed up on the lounge as crook as Rookward, and in need of a responsible adult to source chicken soup (and deliver it with sympathy); chances are they don’t know they can get paid to share in your misery.

Do I need a doctor’s certificate?

In a word: maybe.

This is essentially up to your employer, but it’s important to note that the legislation allows employers to ask for proof that you were indeed sick (or looking after an invalid) for as little as one day off.

Got a legend boss who trusts you? You might be sweet staying in. But many large organisations will have a policy in place requiring a medical certificate. If you’re planning on chucking a sickie (i.e. not actually spending the day with your head in the toilet) then you might think to plan ahead and make it to a GP before you make your way to the beach.

What exactly constitutes “sick”

This is a very good question, and one we’ll be tackling in more depth down the track. In short, if you’re too incapacitated to work, there are many good reasons not to head into your workplace (not least of all the fact that you could potentially infect others and cause even more loss of productivity).

It’s also an unfair expectation to have to work while ill, and this goes for mental health concerns as well.

The law provides safeguards for “stress”, which means if you need to take a day or two to deal with what’s going on upstairs, talk to a doctor and give yourself some time for recovery out of the office, or off the jobsite.

And sometimes, whether the surf’s just too good to miss, you’ve got a mate who needs a shoulder, or you just aren’t feeling it, a day off is a perfectly healthy thing to want, and there’s nothing wrong with that too (everybody knows there’s a difference between taking a break and taking the piss).

What’s the go with accrued leave?

In Australia, all employees who are not employed on a casual basis accrue sick leave from the moment they start a new job. This is done on a basis of days, not hours, and any unused sick leave carries over to the next year (and so forth) as their employment continues.

Sick leave also accrues while an employee is on paid annual leave, community service leave (i.e. jury duty) and also long service leave, but doesn’t accrue during periods of unpaid leave like extended holidays, unpaids personal/carers leave or parental leave.

The Fair Work Ombudsman website has a pretty sweet FAQ section too, if you’re still unclear about your rights as an employee, and how exactly personal/carers leave is managed in Australia.

They call us the lucky country for a reason, and employment safeguards are just one of the many things we can easily take for granted down under.

That said, it’s important to know exactly where you stand in terms of employee/employer relations, and having your rights protected in the eyes of the law to take a day or two of when you need it is a great thing.


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