What are the leave entitlements for volunteer firefighters?

As we are experiencing an unprecedented bushfire season, employers should take note that employees who are volunteer firefighters and who are called to assist with emergency management and bushfire activities are able to access community service leave entitlements. 

Section 109 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act) stipulates that employees who engage in a “voluntary emergency management activity” are entitled to unpaid time off to deal with the emergency or natural disaster.

The employee must be:

  • Participating as a volunteer and be a member of a “recognised emergency management body”, such as DFES;
  • Requested by the body to engage in the activity. In some circumstances where such a request has not been made, but it would be reasonable to expect that it would have had the circumstances so permitted, leave must also be granted. 

An employee who has been requested to participate in an emergency management activity must provide notice to his/her employer as soon as practicable and advise of the expected period of absence. An employer has the right to request evidence and, depending on the circumstances, it may not be reasonable for the evidence to be provided until after the emergency has been dealt with.

Where the employee meets the eligibility criteria for community service leave and complies with the notice and evidence requirements, employers are not able to refuse an employee wanting to access community service leave.

There is no time limit and the employees are entitled to be absent to deal with the emergency, which may take several days or weeks. Such absence includes one or more of the following:

  • Time when the employee engages in the activity;
  • Reasonable travelling time associated with the activity;
  • Reasonable rest time immediately following the activity.

Note that the FW Act is not intended to apply to the exclusion of State laws dealing with community service and, employers and employees in Western Australia are covered by the Emergency Management Act 2005 (WA). Section 92 of this Act states that;

”An employee who is absent from the employee’s employment because the employee is carrying out an emergency management response is entitled to be paid by the person’s employer remuneration for the period of the employee’s absence calculated at the employee’s ordinary rate of remuneration.”

Employers should note that entitlements such as long service leave, personal/carer’s leave and annual leave would continue to accrue for the duration of the absence.

Disclaimer: This summary is a guide only and is not legal advice. For more information on employers’ obligations, call NECA Legal (WA) Pty Ltd on 6241 6129 or email necalegalwa@necawa.asn.au.