Employee Relations – Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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

EMPLOYEE RELATIONS – CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19)

Frequently asked employee entitlement questions COVID-19

Updated 12 July 2021

This guidance is in relation to employee entitlements that apply to circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

Please visit the Australian Government 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.

The mental health and wellbeing of principals, teachers, school staff and students remain an important consideration.

The diocesan education offices of the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria Ltd (CECV) continue to provide a full suite of services to support staff mental health and wellbeing. This includes services and resources aimed at addressing individual needs, as well as tools and supports to help guide staff through this time.

In the Archdiocese of Melbourne, principal wellbeing services are available through Converge International for all primary and secondary school principals. Sessions for the employee assistance program have been extended and are now available from 9 am to 5 pm on weekends. Principals may also find Converge International’s online magazine Flourish a useful resource for managing wellbeing. Work health checks will continue, with minor changes.

In the Diocese of Ballarat, principal and staff wellbeing services are available through Converge International. Sessions for the employee assistance program have been extended and are now available from 9 am to 5 pm on weekends. Principals and staff may also find Converge International’s online magazine Flourish a useful resource for managing wellbeing.

Principals in the Diocese of Sandhurst can contact AccessEAP for 24/7 employee assistance by calling 1800 818 728, making an online booking or using the EAP in Focus app.

Counselling is also available for all staff from the AccessEAP employee assistance program, which is a confidential, free-of-charge service.

Working arrangements within schools having regard to the latest Victorian government requirements and the CECV School Operations Guide

Staff who live in Victoria and work in a school in a bordering state can attend on site. Staff who live in bordering states and work in a school in Victoria can continue to attend on site.

Those living in New South Wales or South Australian border communities can continue to access the ‘border bubble’ using their drivers licence to prove their residential address. If you live in one of the border communities, you do not need to apply for a permit.

There are, however, different conditions if you have been to an orange zone or red zone outside the cross-border community, or if you have COVID-19, any symptoms or are a close contact.

1. Returning from interstate (red and orange permit zones)

(a) Staff who travelled interstate prior to changes in restrictions and prior to the implementation of permit zones

If a staff member, who is not displaying symptoms, has been informed by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)/Victorian Government that, due to visiting a defined red or orange zone, they are required to get a test and self-isolate, it is recommended that discussions occur in relation to working from home arrangements during the required self-isolation period. Currently, there are different requirements regarding self-isolation periods and the amount of time a staff member will be required to self-isolate will be determined by the DHHS/Victorian Government. If it is not reasonable, practicable or appropriate to work from home during the period of required self-isolation, the staff member 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 seeking to work from home or accessing the leave due to a requirement by the DHHS/Victorian Government to self-isolate. The evidence needs to be such that would satisfy a reasonable person. In any case where a person is unwell or is diagnosed with COVID-19, they will access their personal leave entitlements.

A staff member must have returned to Victoria prior to the completion of the school holidays to be able to request to work from home or access paid miscellaneous leave during their required self-isolation period. A school is not required to provide the option of remote work or paid miscellaneous leave for staff members who remain interstate.

A staff member will need to seek a period of leave without pay or request to access another form of paid leave if applicable (e.g. long service leave) during their remaining time interstate and upon return to Victoria during their period of required self-isolation.

(b) Staff who travelled interstate after the introduction of restrictions and the implementation of permit zones

If a staff member travelled interstate following the introduction of border restrictions and permit zones, a school is not required to offer work from home or paid miscellaneous leave during the staff member’s required self-isolation period. A staff member will need to seek a period of leave without pay or request to access another form of paid leave if applicable (e.g. long service leave) during their period of required self-isolation.

If the staff member is unwell or is diagnosed with COVID-19, they will access their personal leave entitlements during this period.

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 other 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 a chronic medical condition
  • of any age with a compromised immune system
  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and aged over 50 years, with one or more chronic medical conditions.

Staff who are medically vulnerable should seek advice from their medical practitioner in relation to their onsite attendance. 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, they 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.

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.

Teachers working remotely

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

  • curriculum development and planning, e.g. lesson plans in the relevant study area
  • development and preparation of learning materials and assessment tasks, e.g. allocating the teacher to work with a small group of onsite teachers for an ongoing focus (e.g. Year 8 A–D English classes preparation, correction, assessments)
  • marking of assessments and reviewing student progress
  • facilitation of small group or individual learning support to complement classroom instruction
  • leading or co-teaching with in-classroom staff using videoconferencing and other technologies
  • provision of peer observation and feedback to other teachers
  • coordination of professional development activities for staff
  • provision of support for EAL students, e.g. 1:1 work over Webex.

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 under 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.

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

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, but 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. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. Staff meetings

Staff meetings can recommence in person, providing relevant density limits and COVIDSafe measures are applied. Alternatively, meetings can be held remotely/virtually during this time.

Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and unwell staff members

13. 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 that medical clearance is obtained prior to the employee returning to work.

14. 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.

15. 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 provides further guidance.

Isolation and suspected cases of COVID-19

16. 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.

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

If an employee is living in the same household as a person required to self-isolate due to current self-isolation advice, it is 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 required self-isolation period has concluded.

18. What if an employee has been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or has been required to get tested and isolate after visiting a location of 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, or if the employee visited a location of a confirmed case of COVID-19, and are required to get a test and self-isolate, but they have not developed symptoms, it is recommended that discussions occur in relation to working from home arrangements during the required self-isolation period. Currently, there are different requirements regarding self-isolation periods and the amount of time a staff member will be required to self-isolate will be determined by the DHHS. If it is not practicable to work from home during the period of required self-isolation, the staff member 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 or that they visited a location of 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.

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

If a staff member has taken a test due to displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and not due to a requirement to obtain a test in accordance with the circumstances listed under question 18, the employee will access their personal leave entitlements while they await a test result.

20. What occurs 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 is not displaying symptoms, there is no requirement for the employee to self-isolate and the employee can attend work.

Vaccinations

21. What occurs when an employee is seeking to be absent from school to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination?

MACS schools only

Notwithstanding the extension of operating hours for some vaccination centres, some staff may have difficulty booking a vaccination appointment outside school hours. Where this is the case, it is recommended principals approve leave to facilitate attendance at a vaccination appointment without impact to an employee’s personal leave balance. Any leave required subsequent to a vaccination for an adverse reaction is to be taken as personal leave. When booking a vaccination appointment, staff should seek approval from their principal to minimise the impact of any leave on the school’s operations.

For guidance on schools not governed by MACS, please discuss this with the relevant diocesan education office or employer representative.

School closures

22. 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, if an employee is fit for duty, work from home can be discussed if practicable; alternatively, the employee will access up to 10 days of paid miscellaneous leave.

Planned leave for employees

23. 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

24. 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.

25. 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.

26. 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 to 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.