Employee Relations - Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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

Published 13 March 2020 | Updated 10:00am 2 April 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.

1. Working arrangements within schools having regard to Federal government announcement on 29 March 2020 and latest Victorian government requirements.

1(a) Performing duties from home

Having regard to the latest government advice, it is recommended that where a school employee can reasonably perform their role (or duties consistent with their role) from home, schools facilitate these arrangements. This will include Category A and Category C staff that are required to perform duties over the school holiday period.

It will be a localised decision regarding which roles within a school can be performed remotely, and schools should determine the most suitable arrangement for staff and the performance of their duties. For example, for a short time over the school holidays, the needs of a school may require an office to remain open to enable parents to attend the school to collect learning and other materials for students. In this situation a school will need to ensure that it has some staffing in attendance. In these instances, schools should ensure that only the minimum staff required to be in attendance attend, that appropriate social distancing requirements recommended by health authorities apply, and ensure other safety requirements(e.g. not working in isolation) are met.

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

1(b) Performing duties onsite

Where an employee’s role cannot be performed through remote methods at home, but can still be relevantly and safely completed on school grounds, these staff members may currently continue to perform duties onsite. These arrangements should be compliant with social distancing requirements as recommended by health authorities, and ensure other safety requirements (e.g. not working in isolation) are met.

1(c) Employees unable to perform duties due to caring for children

In cases where an employee is unable to perform duties due to having caring responsibilities that have resulted as a result of the COVID-19 situation (e.g. school closure or previously organised caring arrangements are no longer suitable, such as grandparents), this will meet the definition of carers leave in accordance with the VCEMEA due to being an unexpected emergency and the employee can access their paid carers leave entitlement.

1(d) Employees requesting to work from home when also caring for children

In cases where an employee requests to work from home, 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. Ultimately it may not be reasonable, safe or practical for an employee to be working from home where also caring for children, and in this instance it will reasonable for an employer to make this assessment. In this instance, an employee can access carers leave in accordance with the VCEMEA due to being an unexpected emergency and the employee can access their paid carers leave entitlement.

1(e) Employees requesting to work from home

If staff members are currently being asked to continue to perform duties onsite, and an employee advises that they would like to perform duties from home, discussions should occur surrounding the reasons behind the request. These requests should be accommodated, unless a person’s role or duties consistent with their role cannot be reasonably performed remotely.

If this is not suitable, an employer should give consideration to granting access to other paid leave entitlements (personal, annual or long service leave) or alternatively a period of unpaid leave (see also question 15 and 16).

2. Non-teaching staff performing alternate duties

To facilitate the possible transition to remote learning and school operations during a period where it is preferable for staff to be working offsite, it may become necessary to consider the duties performed by non-teaching staff, and what can reasonably be performed.

Where it is not possible for an employee to perform all of their current duties due to the changed working arrangements of a school, an employer can give consideration to directing an employee to perform alternate 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 alternate 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 alternate duties, staff should be consulted about the changes and conversations should occur regarding the change and the need to assign alternate duties during this period.

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. 

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, as advised by the Australian Department of Health, a person is required to self-isolate where they have been exposed to any confirmed novel coronavirus case as well as when they have returned from all overseas travel. Therefore, in this case, due to the person being in a period of self-isolation they will access up to ten 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.

1. What if an employee wants to travel to a country with a known government imposed self-isolation requirement upon their return?

As advised by the Department of Home Affairs, from 12:00am Monday 16 March, a person is required to self-isolate for 14 days (10 business days) when returning to Australia from all overseas travel.

Prior to this, the Australian Department of Health had also previously advised that from Friday, 6 March 2020, a person is required to self-isolate in circumstances where they have been exposed to any confirmed novel coronavirus case, or when returning to Australia from:

  • Mainland China (not including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) on or after Saturday 1 February 2020
  • Iran, on or after Sunday 1 March 2020
  • South Korea (Republic of Korea), after 9pm Thursday 5 March 202
  • Italy after 6pm Wednesday 11 March 2020

Where an employee has travelled with a known government self-isolation period upon their return to Australia or after 12:00am Monday 16 March, discussions can occur in relation to work from home arrangements for this period, or if the employer does not consider this to be suitable, then the employee will be able to access other paid leave entitlements (such as annual or long service leave) or alternatively a period of unpaid leave.

2. What if an employee is required to be in self-isolation, but did not have knowledge at the time of their departure from Australia, that self-isolation would be required?

Where an employee is unable to attend work due to required self-isolation from overseas travel, and departed Australia prior to having knowledge of the travel restrictions applying to all overseas travel, discussion can occur in relation to performing duties from home. If the employer does not consider that work from home arrangements are suitable in the circumstances, then it is recommended they are provided with up to ten days of paid miscellaneous leave, which is sufficient to cover the required self-isolation period.

1. 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 ten days of paid miscellaneous leave.  If the family or household member becomes diagnosed with coronavirus, please refer to question 2 within 'Diagnosed cases of coronavirus'.

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 a confirmation the household member has not contracted coronavirus, or the self-isolation period has concluded. In this instance, it is recommended that the employee is also 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.

In each of these instances, consideration may be given to requesting the employee to obtain a medical clearance before they return to work.

2. What if an employee wants to stay home as a precaution, but has not knowingly been exposed to any confirmed novel coronavirus case, or a person returning to Australia from current countries for which self-isolation is required?

If an employee is concerned despite the above scenario, and is communicating that they would like to self-isolate as a precaution, discussions can occur in relation to work from home arrangements for this period. If this is not suitable for the employer, an employer can give consideration to granting access to other paid leave entitlements (such as annual or long service leave) or alternatively a period of unpaid leave. Alternatively, an employer may not approve leave in this scenario.

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 novel coronavirus, and they are required to self-isolate, but they have not developed symptoms, it is recommended that they access up to ten 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 becomes diagnosed with coronavirus, they will access their personal leave entitlements.

1. What leave will apply in the circumstance where a school is required to close for a period of time due to a 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 ten days of paid miscellaneous leave.

2. What happens if an employee’s child has to stay home due to a school/child care closure?

In the circumstance where an employee has to stay home to care for their child due to a school/child care closure they will access their paid carer’s leave entitlement on the basis it is an unexpected emergency, in accordance with the VCEMEA.

If an employee has exhausted their paid carer’s 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 up to 20 days of unpaid carer’s leave – with a requirement that employers give consideration to additional unpaid leave if this is required. 

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 novel coronavirus, they will need to seek advice from the DHHS prior to returning to the workplace.

2. What if an employee requests to not attend at work to care for children due to a decision to keep them home from school/kinder/childcare?

If an employee advises that they intend to keep their children home from school/childcare as a precautionary measure (i.e. where there is no mandated closure at their child’s school/kinder/childcare or confirmed coronavirus diagnosis) or advises that they are required to care for their child and are keeping them home based on medical advice (i.e. the child is immune compromised), employees can access their paid carer’s leave entitlements.

Consideration can also be given to granting access to other paid leave entitlements if requested (such as annual or long service leave) or a period of unpaid leave could be granted where other paid leave entitlements are not available.

3. What if an employee wants to stay home due to having a medical condition or a factor which causes them to be at a higher risk?

If an employee advises that they have been advised to stay home as a precaution due to having a medical condition or a factor which causes them to be at a higher risk, discussions should occur in relation to work from home arrangements for this period. If working from home is not reasonably practicable, the employee will be able to access paid personal leave entitlements.

An employer may request reasonable medical information in this instance.

4. What if an employee wants to stay home due to having an immediate family or household member who has a medical condition or a factor which causes them to be at a higher risk?

If an employee advises that they have been advised to stay home as a precaution due to living with an immediate family or household member who has a medical condition or a factor which causes them to be at a higher risk, discussions should occur in relation to work from home arrangements for this period. If working from home is not reasonably practicable, 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.

5. 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 the 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 ten 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 the 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 ten days of paid miscellaneous leave. Otherwise, this leave would be treated as leave without pay.

6. Information on the Government JobKeeper subsidy payment

Under the JobKeeper Payment, organisations impacted by the coronavirus will be able 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 6 months.

Employers may be eligible to apply for the JobKeeper Payment if they meet the employer eligibility requirements as described on the Government Business Assistance website. This website also details eligibility requirements for staff and includes that casual employees will be eligible if they have been employed on a regular basis for longer than 12 months. 

Employers can register their interest in applying for the JobKeeper Payment via the Australian Taxation Office from 30 March 2020. Subsequently, eligible employers will be able to apply for the scheme by means of an online application.

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

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.