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Talking to your employer about illness

11-minute read

Key facts

  • As an employee, you have rights which protect your employment if you get sick.
  • Full-time and part-time employees are entitled to paid sick leave.
  • Your employer has the right to ask for evidence of illness.
  • You do not need to share any specific medical information with your employer, but there are some advantages to doing so.

If I get sick, do I get any leave?

If you are a part-time or full-time employee and you get sick, you are entitled to take sick leave. Sick leave is one of your 11 basic employee rights included in the National Employment Standards (NES).

You can take sick leave if you have an illness, injury or an unexpected emergency. This also includes stress, a mental health condition or illness because of pregnancy.

You can also take sick leave if you have caring responsibilities for an immediate family member or somebody living in your household. This is called carers leave.

What types of sick leave are there?

There are 2 types of sick leave; paid sick leave or unpaid sick leave.

Paid sick leave

If you work full-time, you get 10 days of paid sick leave per year. If you work part-time, you get a pro-rata (proportionally reduced) number of days of sick leave. Casual employees are not entitled to paid sick leave.

Each year, any sick leave you do not use carries over to the next year.

Unpaid sick leave

If you run out of sick leave, you can take unpaid leave at the discretion of your employer.

Sometimes you can also take annual leave, depending on your work contract.

Your work contract will outline how much sick leave you are entitled to. Your employer can give you more leave than the minimum outlined in the NES.

They cannot give you less.

Can I be fired for taking sick leave?

If you provide evidence of your illness or injury, you are protected from being fired if you:

  • are still on paid sick leave
  • have been away from work for less than 3 consecutive months
  • have been away from work for less than 3 months in total over the last 12 months

You are no longer protected from being dismissed if you have:

  • been absent from work for more than 3 consecutive months
  • been absent from work for more than 3 months in total over the last 12 months
  • used up all your paid sick leave

You can challenge your dismissal if you believe it is unreasonable. If you need advice, speak to the Fair Work Ombudsman or your union.

What do I need to tell my employer?

You must let your employer know as soon as possible that you plan on taking sick leave. You can let your employer know after you have begun taking leave. If you can, its a good idea to tell your employer how long you think you will need to take off from work.

Your employer has the right to ask you for evidence of your illness or injury. You can give them a medical certificate or statutory declaration.

If you do not give your employer evidence of illness or injury, you may not be entitled for paid sick leave.

Do I need to share my medical information with my employer?

You do not have to share details of your illness or injury with your employer if you dont want to.

Some people worry about talking to their employer. For example, they may have an illness they do not want other people to know about. There is no need to tell them if:

  • your illness does not affect your ability to do your job
  • you are worried about discrimination or harassment at work
  • you do not feel your employer will support you
  • you already have enough support outside the workplace and do not feel you need any more at work

If you choose to share your medical information with your employer, you can choose how much and what to share. You have the right to privacy. Your employer is not allowed to share any information with anyone else without your consent.

You may want to let your employer know if you:

  • will be able to continue to work and for how long
  • will be able to fulfil all your work responsibilities
  • want any other people at work to know about your situation
  • need any workplace adjustments
  • need to take time off from work

You are required by law to tell your employer if your condition affects your ability to do your job, or if it will cause health and safety issues for others. For example, you need to tell them if it is unsafe for you to handle machinery because you are taking medicines that make you drowsy.

How can my employer support me?

In some situations, under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act, your employer must make reasonable adjustments so you can continue to work. For example, some illnesses, such as cancer, are legally considered to be a disability.

Your employer can make the following adjustments for you:

  • more frequent breaks
  • reduced or flexible working hours, including working from home
  • changes to your workspace
  • additional supports, such as headsets or screen reading software

Many employers have employee support systems for employees who are unwell.

The Employment Assistance Fund, run by JobAccess (the national government hub for disability employment issues), provides financial assistance to employers to help them support you.

What are the advantages of telling my employer or colleagues about my illness?

Its your decision whether to tell your employer or colleagues about your illness.

Here are some reasons you might consider disclosing your condition:

  • It will avoid rumours and gossip.
  • You will not have the stress of hiding your condition from your employer.
  • If you need to make a legal complaint later, such as an unfair dismissal or discrimination complaint, telling your employer helps protect your rights.

Telling your employer or colleagues can also help them support you by helping you:

  • identify any support or changes to your work you may need
  • learn about any benefits you can get, such as additional leave
  • organise flexible working conditions
  • take time off from work for treatment or appointments
  • reduce the risk that any impacts on your work will be seen as poor work performance
  • have more understanding relationships with your colleagues

You can weigh up the pros and cons of telling your employer with the READY app developed by NSW's State Insurance Regulatory Authority and the University of Sydney.

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Last reviewed: October 2023

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