Employee Relations – Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Frequently asked employee entitlement questions – novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

Published 13 March 2020 | Updated 2:00pm 15 June 2020

This fact sheet is in relation to employee entitlements that apply to circumstances surrounding coronavirus. 

Please visit the Australian Department of Health website for the latest information on the virus, including requirements and conditions for self-isolation periods.

We will continue to update the information on our website as needed. If you have an urgent enquiry about your school please contact us.

Working arrangements guidance Updated 15 May 2020

As this unprecedented situation has continued, it has understandably been a challenging time for everyone. As we transition back to on-site learning, principals and employees are reminded of the available supports during this period, which include access to employee assistance programs. For further information on the available support in your diocese, please contact your relevant diocesan representative.

For further advice regarding arrangements in schools, please contact Employee Relations.

1. Working arrangements within schools having regard to the latest Victorian government requirements and the CECV Return to School: School Operations Guide released on 15 May 2020.

1(a) Performing duties onsite

Having regard to the latest government advice, with a transition back to onsite learning, all school staff will be required to attend onsite at their school in accordance with their normal arrangements from Monday 25 May 2020. Teachers who will be delivering remote and flexible learning for students in Years 3 to 10 will do so from their school, onsite.

Schools should commence planning to support physical distancing, which will include making the necessary adjustments to support physical distancing between adults.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has advised that a ‘venue density’ rule of no more than one person per four square meters is not appropriate or practical in classrooms or corridors, nor is maintaining 1.5 meters between students during classroom activities. Therefore, the previously established ratio of 10 students per class is no longer required in schools.

1(b) What if an employee wants to stay home due to a medical condition or a factor which causes them to be at a higher risk?

Guidance on vulnerable staff has been updated by the Victorian Chief Health Officer. In line with other members of the community, teachers and other school staff may be at greater risk of more serious illness if they are infected with COVID-19, if they are:

  • aged 70 years and older
  • aged 65 years and older, with chronic medical conditions
  • of any age, with compromised immune systems
  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and aged over 50 years, with one or more chronic medical conditions.

If an employee advises that they are in one of the above risk categories and have been advised by their treating medical practitioner to stay home as a precaution, discussions should occur in relation to work from home arrangements. If working from home is not reasonably practicable, it is currently recommended that employees who are in this category are granted paid miscellaneous leave.

An employer may request reasonable medical information and evidence in this instance. Employees aged over 70 are not required to provide medical evidence.

1(c) What arrangements apply to employees who are pregnant? 

Where an employee is pregnant and, provides reasonable evidence from their medical practitioner which states that they are fit for work however it is  required (based on medical advice) that  the employee  not  perform duties on-site for a period of time due to illness or risks arising out of the pregnancy and/or hazards connected with their position, in line with clause 13(3) of Appendix 1 of the VCEMEA 2018, the employee should be provided with an appropriate safe job, performing suitable duties remotely for the period, as indicated by the medical practitioner.

If working from home is not reasonably practicable and reasonable evidence from a treating medical practitioner has been provided, in accordance with clause 13(5) of Appendix 1 of the VCEMEA 2018, the employee is entitled to paid no safe job leave (without deduction from any other leave credits) at their ordinary rate of pay for the period as is certified necessary by their medical practitioner.

1(d) What if an employee wants to stay home because an immediate family or household member has a medical condition which causes them to be at a higher risk?

The Chief Health Officer’s advice does not require that staff who are caring for elderly or chronically ill relatives refrain from attending onsite. If an employee advises that they have been advised by a medical practitioner to stay home as a precaution due to living with an immediate family or household member who has a medical condition which causes them to be at a higher risk, the employee will be able to access paid leave entitlements (e.g. personal, annual or long service leave).

An employer may request reasonable medical information in this instance.

A school can hold discussions with the employee in relation to work from home arrangements for this period, if this is appropriate. If not, the employee will be able to access paid leave entitlements (e.g. personal, annual or long service leave).

1(e) What if an employee wants to stay home despite not being in a medically vulnerable category which causes them to be at a higher risk?

All staff are required to attend on-site from Monday 25 May 2020, unless they are in a defined (see 1b, above) medically vulnerable category. If an employee advises that they would prefer to perform duties from home, despite not being in a medically vulnerable category, then discussions should be held as to the reasons behind the request. In these discussions, schools should communicate the safety measures that will be implemented on site, such as physical distancing between adults and provision of sanitiser, and the expectation that those who are able to work should present themselves for work onsite from Monday 25 May 2020.

Consideration can be given to granting access to paid leave entitlements (such as annual or long service leave) or a period of unpaid leave, subject to operational requirements. Alternatively, an employer may not grant leave in this scenario.

Staff may be experiencing higher levels of stress or anxiety during this time and are encouraged to access relevant employee assistance programs.  

1(f) What if an employee wants to stay at home to care for their children due to a personal decision to keep their children home from school/kinder/childcare from 25 May 2020?

With students transitioning to onsite learning, all school employees will be required to attend on-site at their school in accordance with normal arrangements from 25 May 2020. Where employees have children in Years 3–10 and where alternative arrangements cannot be made, those children can attend their usual schools from Tuesday 26 May 2020. 

Where alternative arrangements cannot be made and the employee decides not to send their children to their usual schools out of precaution, consideration can be given to granting access to paid leave entitlements (such as annual or long service leave) or a period of unpaid leave. Alternatively, an employer may not approve leave in this scenario.

1(g) What if an employee requests to work from home due to a confirmed medical condition which places them at higher risk (meeting one or more of the four established categories); however, they also need to care for children?

If an employee requests to work from home due to having a confirmed medical condition which causes them to be at a higher risk, but is also known to be caring for children, an employer will need to consider whether this is reasonable, safe and practical in the circumstances. This will depend on factors such as the age of the children, whether there are other adults present to provide the care and whether work can be done flexibly. In these scenarios, schools should also take into account that the current circumstances are unprecedented, and a level of flexibility as to how and when work is performed should, where possible, be accommodated. However, in some circumstances, an employer may make an assessment that it is not reasonable, safe or practical for an employee to be working from home where also caring for children.

2. Non-teaching staff performing alternative duties

Where it is not possible for an employee to perform all of their current duties due to the changed working arrangements of a school, or due to students not being on-site, an employer can give consideration to directing an employee to perform alternative duties in accordance with clause 9.1 of the Victorian Catholic Multi-Enterprise Agreement 2018 (VCEMEA). This requires any duties assigned to be reasonable within an employee’s skill, competence and training, and consistent with the classification structure of the VCEMEA.

Any alternative duties that employees are directed to perform may be duties that the employee would not normally perform within their ordinary role; however, such duties should be meaningful and, as outlined above, are required to be consistent with the employee’s classification structure as well as their skills, competence and training in line with clause 9.1(a) of the VCEMEA.

In directing employees to perform any alternative duties, staff should be consulted about the changes and conversations should occur regarding the change and the need to assign alternative duties during this period.

3. Positions of leadership and alternative duties – Updated 16 April 2020

In the event schools find that time release for components of a position of leadership (POL) cannot be fulfilled, e.g. sport leader having a 0.3 FTE allocation for interschool sport attendance, it is recommended that schools consult with the staff member about reasonable alternative duties that can be undertaken during this time. Schools should attempt to reach agreement with the staff member on a temporary change to aspects of their POL. A temporary change could include the school and the teacher agreeing that the teacher be allocated scheduled classes during the period of time release. Schools would need to ensure in this example that the additional scheduled classes undertaken did not exceed the maximum scheduled class time for a teacher. Other meaningful duties such as policy review, planning etc. could also form the basis of reasonable alternative duties.

If required, as per clause 16.3(a) and 62.1(b) of the VCEMEA, discussions can be undertaken within the Consultative Committee in relation to the structure and nature of the POL, and the temporary assignment of alternative duties.

4. What if schools are required to temporarily amend employee start and finish times to accommodate staggered start and finish times for students which promote social distancing?

Schools should commence appropriate consultation with employees who may be requested to temporarily amend their start and finish times to accommodate staggered start and finish times for students.  Schools must consider the relevant employee’s views on the proposed temporary change to their start and finish times. Temporary changes to start and finish times will not involve a reduction in hours for employees. These proposed temporary changes may not be required in all schools. Consultation should occur in line with clause 17.3 of the VCEMEA.

5. What happens to current break times for staff?

Schools should consider staggering breaks for employees to assist in managing appropriate distancing requirements for adults. Schools should also consider whether alternative break rooms for staff are more appropriate than a staff room or other shared spaces in the current circumstances to support distancing requirements for adults. Appropriate consultation should occur with relevant employees prior to making changes to break times for employees.

1. What happens if an employee is sick with coronavirus?

Where an employee is diagnosed with coronavirus, they will access their personal leave entitlements under clause 30 of the Victorian Catholic Education Multi-Enterprise Agreement 2018 (VCEMEA). Where an employee exhausts their paid personal leave entitlements, discussion can occur regarding access to other paid leave entitlements (for example, annual leave or long service leave) or alternatively they will be entitled to unpaid personal leave. 

It is recommended medical clearance is obtained prior to the employee returning to work.

2. What happens if an employee is required to care for an immediate family or household member who is sick with coronavirus?

Where an employee is caring for a person diagnosed with coronavirus, due to the contagious nature of the illness and as advised by the Australian Department of Health, a person is required to self-isolate where they have been exposed to any confirmed coronavirus case. Therefore, due to the person being in a period of self-isolation, they will be able to access up to 10 days of paid miscellaneous leave.

As above, where an employee is diagnosed with coronavirus, they will access their personal leave entitlements under clause 30 of the VCEMEA.

In the case of an employee who is caring for a person diagnosed with coronavirus and subsequently commenced a period of self-isolation, or if they are diagnosed with coronavirus as stated above, it is recommended that medical clearance is obtained in relation to the employee providing the care before they return to work.

3. What leave will apply if staff members contract coronavirus from the workplace?

In the event that a staff member contracts coronavirus through contact in the workplace, the infectious diseases leave provisions of the VCEMEA will apply.

4. Management of an unwell staff member 

In consideration of providing a safe teaching and learning environment, all unwell staff members must stay home. If a staff member presents themselves at the workplace and becomes unwell, they should return home.

This applies to any illness causing the staff member to become unwell and is not restricted to those who are unwell with symptoms related to COVID-19.

In this circumstance due to the staff member being unwell they will be entitled to access their personal leave entitlements.

 

1. When are employees required to self-isolate?

Employees are required to self-isolate for a period of 14 days:

  • following close contact with any confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) case

  • on arrival in Australia from overseas

  • where recommended or required in accordance with the advice of the Victorian Chief Health Officer/Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

2. What happens if an employee’s immediate family or household member is in self-isolation?

Where an employee is providing care to an immediate family or household member (e.g. a child) due to imposed self-isolation requirements, it is recommended they are provided with up to 10 days of paid miscellaneous leave. If the family or household member ia later diagnosed with coronavirus, please refer to question 2 within 'Diagnosed cases of coronavirus' (above).

If an employee is living in the same household as a person required to self-isolate due to current self-isolation advice (but is not required to provide care for that person), then it is still recommended that the employee does not attend work until there is confirmation the household member has not contracted coronavirus, or the self-isolation period has concluded. In this instance, it is recommended that discussions should occur in relation to work from home arrangements. If working from home is not reasonably practicable, the employee will be provided with up to 10 days of paid miscellaneous leave until such time as it is confirmed the household member has not contracted coronavirus, or the self-isolation period has concluded.

3. What if an employee has been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus?

If a staff member has been informed by the DHHS they are a close contact of a confirmed case of coronavirus and are required to self-isolate, but they have not developed symptoms, it is recommended that they access up to 10 days of paid miscellaneous leave.

In these circumstances, it would be reasonable for an employer to request evidence that demonstrates the employee is accessing the leave due to being classified as having close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus. The evidence needs to be such that would satisfy a reasonable person that the employee took the leave for this reason.

In any case where a person is diagnosed with coronavirus, they will access their personal leave entitlements.

4. What leave entitlements apply when an employee is awaiting coronavirus test results?

In accordance with the advice of the Chief Health Officer/DHHS, employees who are not presenting with symptoms (asymptomatic) can attend the workplace as usual while awaiting their test results.

An employee who is showing symptoms while awaiting their test results is unwell and therefore should not attend the workplace. In this circumstance, discussions may occur in relation to work from home arrangements; however, if not suitable or if the employee is unfit for duty, employees will access their personal leave entitlements.

5.  What leave entitlements apply when an employee’s immediate family or household member is awaiting coronavirus test results?

In accordance with the advice of the Chief Health Officer/DHHS, when an employee’s immediate family or household member is awaiting coronavirus test results and:

  • the employee and the employee’s immediate family or household member are not presenting with symptoms (asymptomatic), the employee can attend the workplace as usual

  • the employee’s immediate family or household member is showing symptoms, the employee should not attend the workplace. In this circumstance, discussions may occur in relation to work from home arrangements if practicable. Where working from home is not reasonably practicable, the employee will be provided with up to 10 days of paid miscellaneous leave until such time as it is confirmed the immediate family or household member has not contracted coronavirus, or the self-isolation period has concluded.

1. What leave will apply in the circumstance where a school is required to close for a period of time due to coronavirus exposure?

In the circumstance where a school closure is required due to a confirmed case of coronavirus at the school, and employees are required to self-isolate, they will access up to 10 days of paid miscellaneous leave.

1. What if an employee wants to cancel their approved leave due to coronavirus?

In light of the current circumstances, it is recommended that schools consider approving employee requests to cancel their approved leave. Schools should take into account that employees may not have the ability to utilise the leave for the purposes they originally intended and the additional limitations that have been placed on the community during this time.

For further advice, including in relation to the capacity to manage appointments that may have already been made and to change the working arrangements of other employees, please contact the Employee Relations Unit.

1. Do staff members require a medical certificate to return to work after a period of self-isolation?

Unless otherwise instructed by the DHHS, a medical certificate is not required to return to an education setting for children/students and staff members without symptoms after 14 days who are requested not to attend as a precautionary measure.

This includes staff members requested to stay at home after returning to Australia from all overseas countries.

If a staff member has become unwell within 14 days of returning from overseas or if they have been diagnosed with coronavirus, they will need to seek advice from the DHHS prior to returning to the workplace.

Employers should seek to stay connected with employees, categorised as above. It may be possible for the employee to return to their usual on-site duties, subject to medical advice, if circumstances change, based on advice from Chief Medical Officer.

2. What entitlements will apply to casual employees?

Under the VCEMEA, a Casual Relieving Employee is paid a loading in lieu of benefits including personal leave. In the event a Casual Relieving Employee contracts coronavirus, or is required to self-isolate or is providing care to an immediate family or household member due to the required self-isolation advice, an employer can give consideration to whether in these unique circumstances they wish to provide access to up to 10 days of paid miscellaneous leave. Otherwise, this leave would be treated as leave without pay.

Schools may also engage other casual employees, such as instrumental music instructors and sports coaches. These employees are engaged under the Educational Services (Schools) General Staff Award 2010. Again, in the event one of these casual employees contracts coronavirus, or is required to self-isolate or is providing care to an immediate family or household member due to the required self-isolation advice, an employer can give consideration to whether in these unique circumstances they wish to provide access to up to 10 days of paid miscellaneous leave. Otherwise, this leave would be treated as leave without pay.

3. Information on the government JobKeeper subsidy payment

Under the JobKeeper payment, organisations impacted by coronavirus will be able to apply to access a subsidy from the government to continue paying their employees. Affected employers will be able to claim a fortnightly payment of $1,500 per eligible employee from 30 March 2020, for a maximum period of six months.

To access this payment, employers will need to determine their eligibility for the JobKeeper payment based on the employer eligibility requirements as described on the Government Business Assistance website.

This website also details eligibility requirements for staff if an employer’s application is successful and includes that casual employees will be eligible if they have been employed on a regular basis for longer than 12 months. Casual employees seeking Jobseeker payments can confirm hours worked from their most recent school/s.

Employers can register their interest in applying for the JobKeeper payment via the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) from 30 March 2020. Subsequently, eligible employers will be able to apply for the scheme by means of an online application on the ATO website from 20 April 2020.

Further information about the payment can be found on the government’s Treasury website.

4. Independent contractors and the provision of services (added 7 April 2020)

In light of the coronavirus outbreak, there have been changes made to the way in which schools operate which may affect the ability of contractors to carry out their services. However, it is recommended that, where possible, schools consider ensuring some flexibility in the method in which independent contractors carry out their services during this time.

Where a contractor’s service can still be safely completed on school grounds, these contractors may currently continue to operate onsite. These arrangements should be compliant with social distancing requirements as recommended by health authorities, and ensure other safety requirements are met. For example, it may still be possible for cleaning contractors to carry out their cleaning services if relevant safety requirements can be adhered to.

Where a school intends to change how services are provided or discontinue contracting arrangements, it is recommended that schools review the terms of their contractual agreement for the provision of services and abide by any relevant terms/notice requirements when making decisions of this nature. Advice can be sought from Employee Relations in this regard.

Contractors with businesses that have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak may be eligible to access the JobKeeper payment if they meet the employer eligibility requirements as described on the Government Business Assistance website.

Instrumental music instructors

Where possible, schools may also seek to be flexible in relation to the method in which instrumental music instructors carry out their services during this time. For example, where students commence Term 2 with remote learning measures in place, instrumental music instructors may still be able to deliver their instruction through online communication platforms if suitable.

There are also situations where instrumental music instructors are engaged directly by parents to provide their children with music lessons. In these circumstances, the contract of service is between the parents and the instrumental music instructor, and it will be the parent’s decision as to whether or not they continue with these lessons. However, schools may seek to support students in the continuation of these lessons through making online communication platforms available, if suitable to both parties during this time.

This advice is subject to appropriate child safety measures being able to be maintained through an alternative delivery of this instruction.

CECV – Agile Working Guidelines Template

These guidelines are designed to be adapted by each school according to individual requirements, while taking into consideration any changes to federal or state government requirements.

They accommodate for partial closure and varying levels of remote learning and working. Schools should adjust the document according to their particular circumstances at any given time.

Sections highlighted in yellow are for consideration and/or amendment at the discretion of school leadership.

CECV – Recommended Additions to School Operating Models 

This document includes CECV recommendations that schools can consider incorporating into their operating models during this time. 

CECV – Health and Safety Advice for Returning to Onsite Learning in the Context of COVID-19

CECV  Return to School- School Operations Guide Term 2, 2020