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Circular 2016/5W: Leave arrangements during a natural disaster or emergency

1. The purpose of this advice is to ensure a consistent approach across Australian Government employment for leave arrangements where an official warning is issued for a disaster or emergency. This advice is in line with previous advice provided by the Commission. It updates and replaces Circular WR 2010/2.

Natural disasters and emergencies

2. The Australian Emergency Manual defines a disaster as a serious disruption to community life, threatening death injury or damage to property, which requires special mobilisation of state and territory resources.

3. The manual defines an emergency as an event, actual or imminent, which endangers or threatens to endanger life, property or the environment and which requires a significant and coordinated response.

Leave arrangements

4. Where an official disaster or emergency warning prevents an employee from attending work or where it affects their home, agencies should grant paid leave, commensurate with the scale and nature of the emergency.

5. Where paid miscellaneous or special leave entitlements are available through an enterprise agreement, and the scope of that entitlement would cover disaster or emergency leave, it should be accessed in the first instance.

6. Where access to miscellaneous leave is not available, personal leave or another form of accrued leave should be accessed.

7. All leave for this purpose should count as service. It may be approved retrospectively.

8. These arrangements should apply until the responsible state or territory emergency management authority declares that the emergency or disaster warning has passed.

9. Where an employee is already on pre-approved leave during a disaster or emergency, then the employee shall remain absent from work on that pre-approved leave.

Employees affected by school closures and other carer responsibilities

10. Agencies are reminded that under the National Employment Standards, employees are entitled to take personal/carers leave to care for or support an immediate family member or household member affected by an unexpected emergency.

Community service leave (voluntary emergency management)

11. Agencies are reminded that under the National Employment Standards, employees volunteering for emergency services are entitled to be absent from work. Some enterprise agreements provide for paid leave.

12. State and territory emergency services Acts have provisions for voluntary emergency management leave, which may include paid leave. Those conditions may override an enterprise agreement, any other employment instrument and the National Employment Standards. Agencies should refer to the Act applicable to their state or territory.

Leave entitlements following a natural disaster

13. Agencies should provide an appropriate and compassionate response to employees' needs after a disaster or emergency. The principles outlined above should guide granting such leave entitlements commensurate with the needs of the affected employees.

Work health and safety obligations

14. All employers have a legal duty, through the relevant work health and safety laws applying to each state and territory, and the Commonwealth, to provide a safe workplace and to protect the health and wellbeing of employees. These obligations extend to circumstances involving disasters and emergencies and the need to ensure that workers are adequately protected from risks to personal harm in these circumstances. Agencies should remain mindful of these obligations at all times when considering their response to disaster and emergency warnings and advice.

Further information

15. Further information on the National Employment Standards:

  • Personal/carers leave
  • Community service leave

16. State and territory governments administer the declaration of disasters and emergencies. Agencies and employees have a role in collaborating with state, territory and local governments following a warning being issued.

17. Agencies should refer to the relevant state or territory government emergency management information for further detail:

18. State and territory emergency services Acts - leave arrangements

  • Emergencies Act 2004 (ACT) s183
  • State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 (NSW) s60B
  • Disasters Act 1982 s47 and Fire and Emergency Act 1996 (NT) s15
  • Public Safety Preservation Act 1986 (Qld) s44
  • State Counter-Disaster Organisation Act 1975 (Qld) s35
  • Emergency Management Act 2004 (SA) s33
  • Emergency Management Act 2006 (Tas) s57
  • Emergency Management Act 2005 (WA) s91; s92(2); s93

19. For information on warning services, see the Bureau of Meteorology website

20. The Attorney-General's Department, Australian Emergency Management Arrangements (April 2013)

21. Australian Emergency Manuals Series

22. Should you need any further information please email workplacerelations [at] apsc.gov.au

Last reviewed: 
8 June 2018