Employee Relations – Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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

EMPLOYEE RELATIONS – COVID-19

Frequently asked employee entitlement questions – COVID-19

Updated 9:00 am 27 August 2020

This fact sheet is in relation 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 3 (updated on 12 August 2020).

1. Performing duties from home

All schools (except specialist schools in rural and regional Victoria)

Having regard to the latest government advice, where a school employee can reasonably perform their role (or duties consistent with their role) from home, they must work from home and schools are required to facilitate these arrangements.

In order to ensure that sufficient supervision is provided to students who are able to attend on site (as per the CECV School Operations Guide – Term 3 outlining student attendance on site for the purpose of the onsite supervision program), principals should consult with their staff to identify those willing and able to work on site, either on an ongoing or rostered basis.

This should take place in the context of the consultative arrangements in line with the Victorian Catholic Education Multi-Enterprise Agreement 2018 (VCEMEA 2018) to ensure staff are consulted on, and have input into, the ways that work may be organised and allocated.

Specialist schools in rural and regional Victoria

Principals, teachers and staff in specialist schools in rural and regional Victoria will be required to attend for duty at their school in accordance with normal arrangements, making necessary adjustments to support physical distancing between adults.

This does not preclude a school-based decision to permit some staff to work from home where this is compatible with the circumstances of any individual school. This decision must be made by a principal using the consultative arrangements agreed at the school.

The principal must be assured that:

  • meeting such a request will not compromise their capacity to provide onsite learning for as many students as may attend on any given school day
     
  • it is reasonably practicable for the teacher or teachers to work from home (including the use of a reliable, safe and secure digital environment).

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

2. Performing duties onsite

Employees who can work from home must work from home. Where an employee’s role cannot reasonably be performed through remote methods at home, but that employee is a permitted employee and the role can still be relevantly and safely completed on school grounds, these staff members may attend on site as needed by the school. 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 and follow guidelines from the CECV School Operations Guide – Term 3. During the current stage four restrictions, staff attending on site should be kept to a minimum.

3. Access to childcare/school/kinder for children of school staff

Those employees continuing to work on site and employees who are attending on site to support a school’s supervision program are able to have their children attend their usual school for those days they are working on site, where no other arrangements can be made.

In metropolitan Melbourne, school teachers and other staff working on site or at home have access to childcare as permitted workers, where there is no one else in the household able to supervise their child.

Childcare and kindergarten remain open as usual in regional Victoria. Further advice is available on the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) website.

4. 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.

5. 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 4 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. What if an employee wants to stay home and not attend as part of supervision requirements despite not being in a medically vulnerable category which causes them to be at a higher risk?

Onsite staffing requirements may vary between schools and may change over time as attendance varies. If it is necessary to identify which staff are to work on site either for a specified day/days or as part of a roster to meet the above requirements, the school should follow procedures determined in accordance with the school’s consultative arrangements.

It is also important to note that schools have an obligation to provide a safe place of work and learning. This extends to the provision of a suitable level of supervision and care for the students in attendance, depending on their specific needs, to minimise risks for both staff and students.

Principals should consult their staff to identify those willing and able to work on site, either on an ongoing or rostered basis. They should ensure staff are consulted on, and have input into, the ways work may be organised and allocated. If an employee advises that they would prefer not to attend on site as part of the school meeting their supervision requirements, 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, reduced numbers of staff and students in attendance, and provision of hand sanitiser.

Principals should attempt to meet the supervision requirements with staff who are willing and able to work on site. Principals are encouraged to contact the Employee Relations Unit or local diocesan contact to discuss specific issues in meeting supervision requirements.

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

9. What arrangements apply to employees delivering or supporting essential school services and operations (e.g. cleaning and maintenance workers) who choose not to attend for duty at the workplace, and their work cannot be performed from home?

Staff in this category can attend on site as needed by the school, unless they are in a defined medically vulnerable category.

If an employee advises that they do not want to attend on site, 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, reduced numbers of staff and students in attendance, and provision of hand sanitiser.

If the employee’s concern remains, consideration can be given to granting access to paid leave entitlements in situations where working remotely is not possible (such as annual or long service leave). Alternatively, when applicable paid leave is exhausted, leave without pay may be considered.

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

Metropolitan Melbourne

An employee who can work from home must work from home. However, 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 contract 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 required, a logbook is required to be kept as described above. The employee’s worker permit should also have the addresses of the relevant work sites recorded on it.

Rural/regional Victoria

Employees can continue to work as usual.

11. 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 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 carers leave in these circumstances.

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

12. What happens if an employee is required to attend on site, however is unable to do so due to caring responsibilities?

Employees who can work from home must work from home. Those employees continuing to work on site and employees who are attending on site to support a school’s supervision program are able to have their children attend their usual school or childcare arrangements for those days they are working on site, where no other arrangements can be made.

Principals should consult with employees working remotely to identify those willing and able to attend on site either on an ongoing or rostered basis to support the supervision requirements of the school. Principals should ensure staff are consulted on, and have input into, the ways work may be organised and allocated. Principals should attempt to support the supervision requirements of the school with employees who are both willing and able to attend on site. If an employee is required to attend on site to support the schools supervision requirements, following the above steps being met, however indicates that they are unable to attend on site due to caring responsibilities, the employee may access carers leave.

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

13. 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.

Where there are not enough tasks/duties to replace all of the employee’s tasks/duties that would ordinarily be performed at school, then in these circumstances the remainder of an employee’s FTE could be ‘topped-up’ with paid miscellaneous leave.  It is the CECV’s recommendation that as faith based organisations, schools provide pastoral and compassionate support to employees during these difficult and challenging times, including by ensuring that, to the extent possible, employees are not required to have extended periods without income due to the COVID-19 situation.

14. 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 first 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 due to the changed working arrangements of a school.

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, consideration may need to be given in cases where the provision of miscellaneous paid leave may need to be reviewed where the ability to compensate employees is significantly diminished due to reduced revenue e.g. from school fees. In these circumstances, it is recommended that advice is sought from Employee Relations.

15. 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.

16. What if schools are required to temporarily amend employee start and finish times to accommodate staggered start and finish times for students which 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.

17. 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. Schools 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.

18. Staff meetings and parent–teacher information sessions and interviews

Staff meetings and parent–teacher information sessions should all occur remotely at this time.

Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and unwell staff members

19. 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.

20. 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.

21. 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.

22. 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 3 provides further guidance.

Isolation and suspected cases of COVID-19

23. 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 DHHS.

24. 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 20 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.

25. 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.

26. 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.

27. 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.

28. What if an employee lives in a border town (NSW/SA) and has been required to self-isolate due to a government directive after returning from a trip to Victoria?

Where an employee is unable to attend work due to self-isolation requirements upon returning to NSW/SA from Victoria, discussion should occur in relation to performing duties from home.

School closures

29. 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

30. 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 the Employee Relations Unit.

Other

31. 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 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.

32. 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.

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 2020. Again, in the event one of these casual employees 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.

33. 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 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 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

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 have 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 parents’ 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.