Coping with community service leave

The bushfire crisis across the nation this Summer has been devastating. Through all the sadness, the generosity of thousands of volunteers has been awe-inspiring. At the same time, employers have been left asking: “How do I deal with leave entitlements for volunteer fire-fighters?”

Under the Fair Work Act, employees are entitled to be absent from work to engage in an “eligible community service activity.” This includes dealing with an emergency management activity or natural disaster as a member of a recognised emergency service management body, such as the Rural Fire Service.

Payment for leave

Under the Fair Work Act, there’s no obligation on the employer to pay for the period of emergency service leave. However, the employee’s period of service continues unbroken during the period of leave (so that other entitlements, such as annual leave and personal/ carer’s leave, continue to accrue).

Notice and evidence requirements

The employee must give the employer verbal or written notice of their absence as soon as practicable. This notice must include the length (or estimated length) of the absence from work.

The Fair Work Act doesn’t specify what evidence should be provided, but it might be expected that some form of documentation from the emergency service organisation (advising the employee that their attendance is required) should be included with the notice.

If satisfactory evidence is not provided, the employer is under no obligation to grant community service leave to cover the period of absence from work

Importantly, an employee must not be terminated if the reason for their absence from work is for the purpose of engaging in a voluntary emergency management activity.

Have questions?

If you have employees who are currently engaging in volunteer fire-fighting activities and are unsure about how to deal with leave entitlements, call REEF on 1300 616 170.