Employee Relations – Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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

EMPLOYEE RELATIONS – CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19)

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

Updated 12.30 pm 14 October 2020

This guidance relates to employee entitlements that apply to circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

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

As this unprecedented situation has continued, it has understandably been a challenging time for everyone. 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.

Working arrangements within schools having regard to the latest Victorian government requirements and the CECV School Operations Guide – Term 4 (updated on 25 November 2020)

Location

Year level

Return to school date

Melbourne

Prep – Year 6

12 October

Melbourne

Years 7, 11 and 12, and Year 10 VCAL/VCE students for these classes

12 October

Specialist schools

All year levels

12 October

Regional

All students returning on site by 16 October

From 12 October for all year levels

Melbourne

Years 8, 9 and 10

From 26 October

1. Performing duties onsite

Staff in regional Victoria and in primary schools in metropolitan Melbourne will return to onsite duty as students return to onsite learning. Until all secondary year levels in metropolitan Melbourne have returned to onsite learning, staff in secondary schools in metropolitan Melbourne will only be required to attend school at times when they are performing duties that require them to be on site. School staff should avoid making multiple trips to and from the school site in the course of a single day, and instead seek to attend on site when necessary and return home once all duties requiring onsite attendance have concluded for the day.

Onsite duties may include delivery of onsite learning or supervision, and the allocation of additional classes and any other onsite duties as required, consistent with the current Victorian Catholic Education Multi-Enterprise Agreement 2018 (VCEMEA 2018). In implementing such arrangements, the principal, teachers and staff have a joint and shared responsibility, through local consultative arrangements, to ensure that to the fullest extent possible a fair and equitable share of the workload involved in supporting onsite learning is maintained. The principal retains full authority for the management of the school workforce. It continues to be the principal’s responsibility to make the school-based decisions required to deliver school operations. When determining the working arrangements that enable the transition back to onsite schooling, the consultative arrangements in place at each school must be used to ensure staff are consulted on, and have input into, the ways that work may be organised and allocated.

2. 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?

Advice from the Victorian Chief Health Officer is that, as with other members of the community, teachers and school staff may be at greater risk of more serious illness if they contract COVID-19 and 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, employees in this category can work from home. Schools should discuss appropriate working from home arrangements.

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

These arrangements should be reviewed regularly at the school level during the course of the term and each time restrictions are eased further as risks of transmission and case numbers decrease (for example, the move from Second Step to Third Step).

Teachers working remotely

Teachers working from home can undertake a range of duties consistent with their employment. This could include:

  • developing and planning curriculum, e.g. lesson plans in the relevant study area
  • developing and preparing learning materials and assessment tasks, e.g. the teacher could work with a small group of onsite teachers on class preparation, correction or assessments
  • marking assessments and reviewing student progress
  • facilitating small group or individual learning support to complement classroom instruction
  • leading or co-teaching with in-classroom staff using videoconferencing and other technologies
  • providing peer observation and feedback to other teachers
  • coordinating professional development activities for staff
  • providing support for EAL students, e.g. 1:1 work over Webex
  • preparing, developing and reviewing reporting for the end of year
  • preparing for 2021, e.g. support for school enrolments and/or planning transition programs
  • providing individual or small group counselling to support subject selection, course selection or careers counselling (secondary schools).

3. What if an employee has a medical condition or a factor which causes them to be at a higher risk and wants to attend on site?

The Victorian Chief Health Officer has identified that some school staff may be at greater risk of more serious illness if they contract COVID-19 and are within the higher risk categories as listed in question 2 above.

If an employee advises that they are in one of the listed risk categories and requests to attend work on site, it is recommended that schools have discussions with the staff member about their preference to attend work on site, and request that a medical clearance is provided from their medical practitioner indicating that it is appropriate for them to be in attendance at the workplace.

4. 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, but 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.

5. 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?

Staff who are living with or caring for elderly or chronically ill relatives should seek advice from the medical practitioner of the person for whom they are caring to determine if they can attend on site or should work remotely when it is reasonable, practicable and appropriate to do so. An employer may request reasonable medical information in this instance.

Where in these circumstances the principal forms the view that it is not reasonable, practicable and appropriate for the employee to work remotely or the employee forms the view that they are not in a position to perform their duties, they may access personal leave or some other form of leave.

These arrangements should be reviewed regularly at the school level during the course of the term and each time restrictions are eased further as risks of transmission and case numbers decrease (for example, the move from Second Step to Third Step).

6. Can employees work across multiple school sites or for multiple employers?

Metropolitan Melbourne

Employees required to attend on site are permitted to work at different school sites that have different employers. In this instance, they will need to ensure they complete a logbook of the date, time and location of every site they go to for contact tracing purposes.

In the situation where employees work across multiple sites for the same employer, it is recommended that this is limited to one site; however, in the event where working across multiple sites is necessary, a logbook is required to be kept as described above. The employee’s worker permit should also have the addresses of the relevant worksites recorded on it.

If a school staff member is working at more than one premises for two or more employers, the staff member must provide a written declaration using the form available on the CEVN website to each employer of the work they are performing and the details of the other premises they are performing work at.

Rural/regional Victoria

Employees can continue to work as usual.

7. What happens when an employee working remotely is unable to do so due to caring responsibilities?

Schools should consult to determine whether it is reasonable, safe or practicable for the employee to work while undertaking caring responsibilities. In these scenarios, schools should take into account that the current circumstances are unprecedented, and a level of flexibility should be demonstrated.

Where an employee is working remotely, however is unable to do so due to caring responsibilities, the employee may access carer’s leave in these circumstances.

An employee who due to the current circumstances may have a low balance or have exhausted their balance of personal/carer’s leave should discuss with their principal this situation to consider possible options.

8. Staff performing alternative duties

Where it is not possible for an employee to perform all their current duties due to the changed working arrangements of a school, or due to remote learning, an employer can consider directing an employee to perform alternative duties in accordance with clause 9.1 of the VCEMEA 2018. 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 2018.

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 2018.

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

9. What if the school cannot afford to continue to pay miscellaneous leave?

As a first step, and prior to granting paid miscellaneous leave, it is recommended that employers consider all alternative tasks or duties that an employee may perform, where it is not possible for an employee to perform all of their current duties.

A school’s budget will have been forecast for the school year and therefore it is anticipated that schools will generally have the funds available to cover staffing costs. However, in cases where the ability to compensate employees is significantly diminished due to reduced revenue, e.g. from school fees, the provision of miscellaneous paid leave may need to be reviewed. In these circumstances, it is recommended that advice is sought from Employee Relations.

10. Positions of leadership and alternative duties

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 clauses 16.3(a) and 62.1(b) of the VCEMEA 2018, 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.

11. What if schools are required to temporarily amend employee start and finish times to accommodate staggered start and finish times for students to promote physical 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 employees’ 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 2018.

12. What happens to current break times for staff attending on site?

Schools should consider staggering breaks for onsite employees to assist in managing appropriate distancing requirements for adults. They should also consider whether alternative break rooms for staff are more appropriate than a staffroom 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.

13. Staff meetings

Term 4 operational guidelines should be followed for all meetings on site.

Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and unwell staff members

14. What happens if an employee is sick with COVID-19?

Where an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, they will access their personal leave entitlements under clause 30 of the VCEMEA 2018. 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.

In the event that a staff member contracts COVID-19 through contact in the workplace, the infectious diseases leave provisions of the VCEMEA 2018 will apply.

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

15. What happens if an employee is required to care for an immediate family or household member who is sick with COVID-19?

Where an employee is caring for a person diagnosed with COVID-19, 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 COVID-19 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 COVID-19, they will access their personal leave entitlements under clause 30 of the VCEMEA 2018.

In the case of an employee who is caring for a person diagnosed with COVID-19 and subsequently commenced a period of self-isolation, or if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 as stated above, it is recommended that medical clearance is obtained in relation to the employee providing the care before they return to work.

16. What leave will apply if staff members contract COVID-19 from the workplace?

In the event that a staff member contracts COVID-19 through contact in the workplace, the infectious diseases leave provisions of the VCEMEA 2018 will apply.

17. 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.

The CECV School Operations Guide – Term 4 provides further guidance.

Isolation and suspected cases of COVID-19

18. 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 COVID-19 case
  • on arrival in Australia from overseas
  • where recommended or required in accordance with the advice of the Victorian Chief Health Officer/the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

19. 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 is later diagnosed with COVID-19, please refer to question 15 within ‘Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and unwell staff members’ (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 COVID-19, 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 COVID-19, or the self-isolation period has concluded.

20. What if an employee has been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19?

If a staff member has been informed by the DHHS they are a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19 and are required to self-isolate, but they have not developed symptoms, it is recommended that discussions occur in relation to working from home arrangements. If this is not practicable, the employee may 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 COVID-19. 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 COVID-19, they will access their personal leave entitlements.

21. What leave entitlements apply when an employee is awaiting COVID-19 test results?

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.

22. What leave entitlements apply when an employee’s immediate family or household member is awaiting COVID-19 test results?

In accordance with the advice of the Victorian Chief Health Officer/the DHHS, when an employee’s immediate family or household member is awaiting COVID-19 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 COVID-19, or the self-isolation period has concluded.

School closures

23. What leave will apply in the circumstance where a school is required to close for a period of time due to COVID-19 exposure?

In the circumstance where a school closure is required due to a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the school, and employees are required to self-isolate, they will access up to 10 days of paid miscellaneous leave.

Planned leave for employees

24. What if an employee wants to cancel their approved leave due to COVID-19?

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 Employee Relations.

Other

25. 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 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 COVID-19, 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 onsite duties subject to medical advice, if circumstances change, based on advice from the Chief Medical Officer.

26. What entitlements will apply to casual employees?

Under the VCEMEA 2018, a casual relieving employee is paid a loading in lieu of benefits including personal leave. In the event a casual relieving employee contracts COVID-19, 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.

Term 4 operational guidelines should be followed for instrumental music teaching.

27. Independent contractors and the provision of services

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, there have been changes made to the way in which schools operate that 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 on site. These arrangements should be compliant with physical distancing requirements as recommended by the DHHS, 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 COVID-19 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

Term 4 operational guidelines should be followed for instrumental music teaching.