Ceremonial Leave

By Madaleine Ziegler, Workplace Relations Advisor  


Acknowledgement of Country  


Business Chamber Queensland respectfully acknowledges the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the lands from across Queensland and the Torres Strait. We acknowledge the Jagera and Turrbal people as the Traditional Custodians of Meanjin (Brisbane), the lands where our office is located and the place we meet, work, and learn. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. 


What is Ceremonial Leave?  


Ceremonial leave is a type of leave that allows eligible employees time off to attend and participate in ceremonies of cultural significance. It is usually unpaid however, paid leave is not uncommon in certain sectors, including health and human services sector and higher education. 

The purpose of ceremonial leave is to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in managing competing demands from the workplace as well as their family, community, and culture.  


Ceremonial leave is not an employee entitlement provided within the National Employment Standards (‘NES’) of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (‘FW Act’). Rather, it may be found within: 

  • A modern award; 
  • An enterprise agreement;  
  • An employment contract; or 
  • A workplace policy.  


Ceremonial leave is in addition to other types of leave and will not affect an employee’s entitlement to personal/carer’s leave and compassionate leave provided within the FW Act.  


Modern Awards  

Modern awards that contain an unpaid ceremonial leave clause are as follows:  


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services Award 2020 

clause 26 

Aged Care Award 2010 

clause 32 

Health Professionals and Support Services Award 2020 

clause 31 

Labour Market Assistance Industry Award 2020 

clause 27 

Medical Practitioners Award 2020 

clause 23 

Nurses Award 2020 

clause 23 

Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award 2010 

clause 35 


Throughout this article these awards will be collectively referred to as ‘the Awards’.   


Example Ceremonial Leave Clause - Clause 23 of the Nurses Award 2020 


‘an employee who is legitimately required by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander tradition to be absent from work for ceremonial purposes will be entitled to up to 10 working days unpaid leave in any one year, with the approval of the employer’.  


Employers covered by the Awards will need to check the specific award, or awards, their employees are covered under for provisions relating to ceremonial leave.  

As with most unpaid leave, unpaid ceremonial leave does not count towards an employee’s service however, it will not break an employee’s period of continuous service.  

Ceremonial leave is not cumulative, any unused balance will not carry across to the following year.  


Enterprise Agreements  


Many enterprise agreements that apply to employees and employers who perform work  

in the northern parts of Australia (e.g. the Northern Territory and regional areas of Queensland, Western Australia, and South Australia) include a term or terms on ceremonial leave.  



What are the conditions of Ceremonial Leave?   


Ceremonial leave may be granted to an employee of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent for ceremonial purposes:  


  • connected with the death of a member of the immediate family or extended family; 


  • for other ceremonial obligations under Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander custom and/or law (or lore).  


Employees who access ceremonial leave in connection with the death of a member of the immediate family or extended family cannot take both ceremonial leave and paid compassionate leave at the same time. Ceremonial leave and compassionate leave could be used to cover different days of absence taken for the same death if requested, for example, the employee could apply for two days of paid compassionate leave, and a period of unpaid ceremonial leave either prior to or after the compassionate leave. 


Where unpaid ceremonial leave is not sufficient (e.g. an employee’s obligations require further time away from work due to their remoteness) an employee may be able to access other leave entitlements in accordance with the requirements of those entitlements (e.g.  accrued long service leave, annual leave).  




Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples belong to complex cultural kinship systems. This means that their connection and responsibilities to family often include the concept of ‘extended’ family such as aunties, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins (including through traditional adoption), and people of significant importance or close association (e.g. community Elders). Subsequently, ceremonial obligations may exist beyond those in their ‘immediate’ family, regardless of whether there is a blood relationship or not.  


Ceremonial obligations  


Ceremonial obligations may either be ‘traditional’ or ‘urban’ in nature.  

They can include, but are not limited to:  

  • Tombstone openings and funerals (i.e. Sorry Business)  
  • Smoking/cleansing ceremonies  
  • Birthing and naming  
  • Initiation  
  • Men’s and women’s business  
  • Sacred site or land ceremonies  
  • Culturally significant events (e.g. NAIDOC week, Coming of the Light).  


This is not an exhaustive list of ceremonial obligations, meaning that employers should use their discretion when reviewing an employee’s application for ceremonial leave. Each application should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and consider the personal circumstances of the employee seeking the ceremonial leave.  


What is Sorry Business?  


Sorry Business is a custom of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for acknowledging grief and loss. It involves responsibilities and obligations to attend funerals, and participate in other cultural events, activities, or ceremonies.  

Sorry Business ceremonies may occur to mourn the loss of a loved one, if a family or community member is ill or imprisoned, or when a Native Title application is unsuccessful.  


Compassionate leave  


Employees who need time off work for Sorry Business may be able to take compassionate leave. All employees are entitled to two days of compassionate leave per occurrence. Full-time and part-time employees receive paid compassionate leave and casual employees can access unpaid compassionate leave.  

As per the NES, employees can only take compassionate leave when someone in their immediate family or household dies (and in some other circumstances). Employers should support their employees in taking time off work for Sorry Business that involves other people.  

In such circumstances, it may be appropriate for employers to allow an employee to use ceremonial leave.  


Dates of significance  


The following is a list of dates that are historically and culturally significant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:  

  • 26 January – Invasion/Survival Day  
  • 13 February – National Apology Day  
  • Third Thursday of March (i.e. 21 March 2024) – National Close the Gap Day  
  • 26 May – National Sorry Day  
  • 27 May – The 1967 Referendum  
  • 27 May to 3 June – National Reconciliation Week  
  • 3 June – Mabo Day  
  • 1 July – Coming of the Light  
  • 7 July to 14 July – National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week  
  • 4 August – National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day  
  • 9 August – International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples 
  • First Wednesday of September (i.e. 4 September 2024) – Indigenous Literacy Day 
  • 13 September – The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People 


Employers are encouraged to be mindful of the above dates, along with dates for local and regional events. Employees may wish to take time off work to acknowledge and participate in them.  


What does this mean for employers?   


The ceremonial obligations of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander employees can sometimes conflict with their workplace responsibilities (i.e. they may occur during work times and may not coincide with public holidays or rostered days off work). Where possible, employers should encourage and support employees by allowing them to use their leave entitlements to take time off.  


When discussing significant dates and cultural events with an employee, employers must always show sensitivity and respect.  


There are many benefits to employers who provide ceremonial leave entitlements to their employees such as:  

  • Achieving greater employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples  
  • Recognising, valuing, and supporting the cultural diversity and contribution of their workforce  
  • Generating increased innovation and productivity, job satisfaction, workplace morale and culture, employee engagement, and retention  
  • Being acknowledged as an employer of choice for best practice in diversity measures  
  • Ensuring that employees feel valued for their unique qualities, ideas, and perspectives  

How can Business Chamber Queensland help?  


Leave Policy  


Our template Leave Policy has been written to cover a number of statutory and other entitlements to leave, and the template can be adopted and adapted for the workplace.  


The template includes Ceremonial Leave as an option for employers, and it outlines the conditions under which Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander employees may apply for ceremonial leave.  


The template also includes other employee leave entitlements and obligations such as:  


  • Annual leave  
  • Personal leave (sick or carer’s)  
  • Compassionate leave  
  • Community service leave 
  • Family and domestic violence leave 
  • Parental leave  
  • Long service leave  
  • Leave without pay  




  • Other Business Chamber Queensland members: $154.00 (including GST)  
  • Non-Members: $275.00 (including GST)  


Workforce Evolve  


Business Chamber Queensland knows attracting, hiring, and retaining the right people is one of the biggest constraints for business growth. With an ongoing labour shortage, it is more important than ever to engage with as many job seekers as possible. Rethink your attraction and retention practices to access people from under-represented cohorts of the labour force now and into the future. 


How can Workforce Evolve help? 


Workforce Evolve is a self-paced program designed to help employers think differently about who they hire and how to retain them in the future. Designed by business for business, Workforce Evolve will help you learn how to implement inclusive employment practices to support a diverse workforce. 


Get started Register for FREE to start your Workforce Evolve journey to access: 

  • 6 self-paced learning modules – check out our course outline 
  • Library of free resources – checklists and templates 
  • Personalised business coaching – 1 hour free per module, that’s up to six hours of free mentoring and support! 
  • Referral partnersspecialising in diversity cohorts 




Further information and support 

Business Chamber Queensland members with HR services as part of their membership are invited to contact the Workplace Advisory Services team: 

P: 1300 731 988 

E: [email protected]    


Businesses who do not have a HR membership may also seek assistance however a competitive consultancy fee will apply for any advice and assistance provided.  

For membership enquiries, please contact our membership team on 1300 731 988. 







Acknowledgement of Country

Business Chamber Queensland respectfully acknowledges the Traditional Owners and custodians of the lands from across Queensland and the Torres Strait. We acknowledge the Jagera and Turrbal people as the Traditional Custodians of Meanjin (Brisbane), the lands where our office is located and the place we meet, work and learn. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.