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Sick leave entitlements

Most employees are entitled to 10 days’ sick leave a year. It depends on how long they have worked for the same employer, and their entitlement date.

Employee entitlement

All employees (including part-time and casual employees) are entitled to 10 days' sick leave per year if:

  • they have 6 months’ current continuous employment with the same employer, or
  • they have worked for the employer for 6 months for:
    • an average of 10 hours per week, and
    • at least 1 hour in every week or 40 hours in every month.

Minimum sick leave entitlements increased from 5 to 10 days per year from 24 July 2021. 

For each 12-month period after meeting the above criteria, each employee gets at least 10 days’ sick leave.

If in any year the employee doesn’t meet the criteria, then they don’t get any new sick leave entitlement. But they can use their sick leave balance which may have carried over from the previous year. An employee may re-qualify for sick leave as soon as they meet the criteria.

Asking an employee to come to work while sick could put the health of other workers at risk. Safety risks could also be created depending on the type of work being done. If an employee has no sick leave left, or is not yet entitled to sick leave, an employer and employee can agree that the employee:

  • use sick leave in advance
  • use some of their annual holidays (if available), or
  • take unpaid leave.

Sick leave entitlements are not pro-rated in any way. For example, even if a part-time employee only works 3 days a week, they still get 10 days’ sick leave a year and can accumulate up to 20 sick days a year.

Work out if you qualify

Telling your employer

You need to tell your employer as soon as possible that you are sick or injured and you want to take sick leave. A phone call is the best way to let your employer know, but your workplace may have its own systems to tell them you are sick.

Payment for sick leave

Payment for sick leave is only made when it is a day that an employee would otherwise have worked if they were not sick. If it was not an otherwise working day, then the employee would not be entitled to be paid sick leave. For example, if the employee was on unpaid leave or they fell sick on a day they weren't rostered to work.

Otherwise working day 

Part day sick

The Holidays Act 2003 describes sick leave entitlement in terms of days, and doesn’t divide it into part days or hours. This means that if an employee works for part of the day and then goes home sick, this may be counted as using a whole day of sick leave, no matter how much of the day they worked before going home.

However, the employee and employer can agree to describe the entitlement as hours or part days if this is better for the employee. For example, if an employee worked a half day then went home sick, their employer could agree to only deduct a half day of sick leave. Payment for this half sick leave day would be half of their relevant daily pay or average daily pay.

Employment agreements

Your employment agreement can’t give you less sick leave benefits than you get under the Holidays Act 2003, but it can give you more. Examples of the better sick leave benefits some employment agreements or workplaces have are:

  • the employee gets more than 10 days' sick leave each year
  • sick leave an employee can carry over is not capped or is capped at higher than 20 days.

You should look at your employment agreement and workplace policies about sick leave.

Running out of sick leave

If you have run out of sick leave and you’re sick or injured (or your spouse, partner or dependant is sick or injured) you can:

  • ask your employer to give you sick leave in advance
  • use some of your annual holidays, or
  • ask to take unpaid leave.

Sick leave during annual holidays

If an employee (or their spouse, partner or dependant) gets sick before starting scheduled annual holidays, they can take the portion of annual holidays they’re sick for, as sick leave.

If an employee (or their spouse, partner or dependant) gets sick during their annual holidays, they can change the days they are sick for to sick leave days rather than annual holidays – but only if their employer agrees.

The employer can ask the employee to prove the sickness before allowing them to change their annual holidays to sick leave.

Unused sick leave

Any unused sick leave at the end of a 12-month period can be carried over and added to their next year's entitlement.

For example, after 6 months' employment, an employee gets at least 10 days’ sick leave. If the employee doesn’t use any sick leave during the following 12 months, they will still get another 10 days’ sick leave on their entitlement date. This will give them a total of 20 days’ sick leave.

The maximum amount of sick leave that can be accumulated under the Holidays Act 2003 is 20 days. The employer and employee can agree that sick leave can accumulate to more than 20 days. They can do this in the employment agreement or through workplace policies.  

Unused sick leave can’t be cashed-up or be part of any final payment to the employee when they leave, unless this is in the employment agreement.

Doctor's appointments

The employer is not legally required to give employees time off work to visit the doctor or dentist unless the employment agreement says so.

If there is nothing specified in the employment agreement, the employer and employee can negotiate. If they cannot agree, the employee can schedule these appointments for a time outside of work hours. If the employee is sick or injured, they could use sick leave to attend the appointment.

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Page last revised: 14 August 2023

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