Look before they leave

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extended leave

Managing extended leave among your staff can be a difficult and complicated process. But as Mick Daley discovered, it doesn’t have to be

Any dental practitioner that employs one or more staff knows the confusion that can result when leave requests clash and you’re left shorthanded. But such accidents can be easily avoided by knowing the pertinent legislation and implementing careful leave scheduling.

It’s vital to get a workplace policy or registered agreement in place to deal in advance with any problems that could arise. In fact, it’s the first thing you should do when setting up a business. The Fair Work Commission has handy tips on how to draft these.

Dr Sabrina Manickam, President of the NSW branch of the Australian Dental Association (ADA) has had extensive experience of working in larger practices and institutions such as NSW Health and Sydney University. She’s always worked in situations where there’s been good human resources management, so doesn’t have first-hand experience of leave-planning disasters. But she knows of practices where leave scheduling has gone horribly wrong.

“Through conversations I know there are work-places where things have gone completely pear-shaped,” she says. Things go wrong when “people don’t understand legislation and don’t seek advice and don’t lay down the information properly. It’s the job of the employer to keep employees updated on any changes to legislation, so any changes will occur in a timely fashion. But it’s a two-way thing—staff need to be equally proactive and when that combination happens it works well but in the opposite case and speaking anecdotally, I’m sure people have lost jobs over it.”

Dr Manickam stresses that before you employ any dental practitioner, you need to clearly indicate to them their leave entitlements in their contract. There should be a formal induction process so the employee is fully aware of how things work. They should also sign off on all documentation to indicate they’re aware of their contractual obligations and entitlements.

“I think the first most important thing with leave is the practice owner needs to know what the legislation is that governs it,” emphasises Dr Manickam.

“There’s a whole lot of HR and industrial-relations laws and workplace protections in place. You need to know what the different awards for staff entitle them to and once they have their head around that they need to ensure you have documentation onsite to illustrate to staff that this is the law, this is not something you’re making up. If employees want to apply for leave, there needs to be a process in place, so documentation needs to be tight. So if an employee says ‘I need ten days off at school holidays,’ and the boss is busy and says, ‘Oh yeah, no worries,’ but when it actually comes down to that time where the employer has to organise contingencies to cover that employee, things can get confusing.

“Staff can certainly have a conversation with the boss in the first instance, then fill out the forms to say, ‘These are the dates I want,’ then the boss can work out a roster so there’s no confusion and the leave distribution is fair.”

Dr Manickam suggests that small practices without HR departments can get HR and IR tips through the the ADA and its advisers at Wentworth Advantage.

Chantelle Roe, practice manager at Dental Evolutions in Mortdale says her practice has never had any problems with leave management. She relies on the support services of Dental Corp for HR management.

“All staff need to fill out an application form for all required leave. We then enter it on the payroll and our time sheets, depending on what type of leave it is. We then send on a copy to Dental Corp, they’ve got their own procedures in place and their own HR department.”

extended leave

In addition to having proper processes in place, simple courtesy and cooperation are invaluable. Nicole Cooper at Smilessence in Baulkham Hills is the only full-timer at a small practice largely run by part-timers. She says she’s never experienced difficulties in leave management, as their leave process is determined entirely by common sense and good will. However, it is totally understandable that some companies might have a bit more difficulty with leave management, due to a whole host of reasons. Just because something works for one company does not mean that it will work well for another company. Since this is the case, some companies might benefit from using leave management outsourcing vendors to help them manage their employees leave, particularly if you are a large company.

“We treat our staff well and they give us courtesy in return. It’s about give and take. There’s no set policy, if somebody needs to take leave, we fill in and cover each other’s backs.”

The various forms of leave are quite specific in terms of what conditions apply. It’s important to note that working one hour in a day qualifies a working day and that part-timers also qualify. It’s up to an employee to let you know that they intend to take sick or carer’s leave, attend a medical appointment or go for elective surgery. Though it’s obviously preferable they do so in advance, they are entitled to do so after they’ve already left in case of emergencies.

Parental pay leave applies if an employee has worked for you for 12 months before the expected birth or adoption. This is good for at least eight weeks if the employee fulfils residency requirements and will remain an employee until the end of that period.

Leave without pay doesn’t have jurisdiction under federal awards and should be worked out in consultation
with your employees. An advantage of this is that you can retain good staff who want a career break to backpack around the Himalayas or study but want to return to you.

Stress leave is possibly the more nebulous form of leave in terms of management, as it comes in under the banner of sick leave, but don’t underestimate it. It’s the second most common type of workplace compensation claim in Australia.

In the end, leave planning simply comes down to good planning. The Fair Work Ombudsman has a useful Leave Calculator on its website. “With a bit of forethought and research, leave can be a simple matter,” says Dr Manickam. “But my advice to any employer is always to make sure everything is clearly set out for employees. And for employees to seek legal advice to clarify their own situation before commencing a job.”


Leave entitlements according to the Fair Work Act

Annual leave (or holiday pay)

Entitles full-time and part-time employees to four weeks of paid annual leave, during which they receive their
usual pay.

Sick and carer’s leave

Entitles all full-time employees to take up to 10 paid days off a year to deal with personal illness, caring responsibilities or family emergencies. Part-timers are entitled to 10 days pro-rata. Full-timers, part-timers and casuals are all entitled to a further two days’ unpaid leave.

Compassionate and bereavement leave

Full-time and part-time employees are entitled to take up to two days’ paid leave when a member of their immediate family or household dies or suffers a life-threatening illness or injury. Casual employees get up to two days’ unpaid leave.

Parental leave

If your employee is the primary carer of a newborn or adopted child, she or he is entitled to receive the national minimum wage for up to 18 weeks. However, the wage is paid by the government, not by you. The government pays you—the employer—first, and you then pay the employee through your normal payroll, after deducting tax (if any).If your employee has worked for you for at least 12 months, she or he is entitled to take a further 7 ½ months’ unpaid leave, in addition to the 18 weeks’ paid leave. In other words, new parents are entitled to take a year off without losing their job—18 weeks paid, 34 unpaid. If your employee’s partner is the primary carer of a newborn or adopted child, your employee is entitled to two weeks’ leave paid at the national minimum wage. Again, this is paid by the government.
Partners of primary carers are not entitled to take unpaid parental leave.

Long-service leave

Employees are entitled to long-service leave after 10 years of continuous service. However, the amount varies across the states and territories. In NSW, it’s two months; ACT, six weeks; NT, 1.3 weeks for every year worked; SA, 13 weeks; QLD, Tas and WA, eight and two-third weeks; and in VIC, it’s one week for every 60 weeks worked. Employees are also entitled to a pro-rata amount of long-service leave after five years in NSW and WA, and after seven years in all other states and territories.

Extended unpaid leave

While there is no provision in work legislation for extended unpaid leave, staff may still ask for it, and you can grant it at your discretion. Extended unpaid leave is a way of retaining exceptional staff, or staff in whom you’ve invested, for instance someone who you’ve spent years training and who now wants to travel.

Community service leave

Employees, including casual employees, can take community service leave for activities such as jury duty and volunteering during emergencies such as bushfires. Jury duty is the only form of community service leave which is paid. The employer must pay ‘make-up pay’ to employees, but only for the first 10 days of jury duty. Make-up pay is the difference between any jury duty payment the employee receives from the court, and your employee’s base pay rate. Courts pay jurors between around $40-180 a day, depending on which state or territory they’re based, for the first 10 days.

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