Emergency response - Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak - FAQs

Purpose

These answers to commonly asked questions about employment conditions and entitlements during the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, should be read in conjunction with the the latest communications from the Head of Service and the ACT Chief Health Officer (or delegate). Further advice can also be found in the Emergency Response - ACTPS Staff Entitlements During Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Policy and the Work Health and Safety COVID-19 resources page (access only for ACTPS employees).

These are not answers or guidance to health questions. For answers to health-related question please visit www.health.act.gov.au.

Frequently asked questions

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If an employee is no longer able to work from their normal place of work for COVID-19 related reasons, the manager and the employee should consider other options or working from home arrangements. To enable the employee to work from home, the duties may need to be amended.

Alternatively, the ACTPS may need to re-prioritise work and flexibly deploy employees to other duties to meet community needs. Any flexible deployment must to consider employee caring responsibilities and other circumstances.

Whether the flexible deployment occurs to another workplace, or in a working from home context workers will not have their take home pay reduced and the deployment will be consistent with the skill set and training of the employee. No employee will be placed in an unsafe situation as a result.

Any temporary changes to an employee’s role will be needs driven and done in consultation with the employee and where they choose, their representatives.

Please click here to access working from home WHS resources (access only for ACTPS employees).

ACTPS Enterprise Agreements contain provisions for home based work. The delegation schedule in each directorate sets out who has the authority to make the decision.

Directorates should be mindful that there are many reasons employees may need to work from home or work flexibly during this outbreak including:

  • requirement to self-isolate after potential exposure;
  • caring for children or other immediate family members;
  • health issues / vulnerabilities which put the employee at increased risks (such as pregnancy or where the employee has a pre-existing medical condition), etc.

Employees are encouraged to consider their own circumstances and to initiate discussions with their manager/supervisor as soon as possible if they need to work from home or work flexibly.

Managers/supervisors are encouraged to consider how their staff can continue to work, should they be unable to attend the workplace.

Directorates should continue to consult with relevant unions and their representatives, and be mindful that unions are also changing the way they work, in order to protect their employees.

Workforce Capability and Governance and CMTEDD will maintain centrally managed communications with unions from a whole of government perspective.

If the casual employee is considered an ‘eligible casual employee’ in accordance with the COVID-19 advice and if it is not practicable or appropriate for them to work from home, they should continue to be paid for any shifts they would have worked had they not had to isolate. The payment will be made under the leave category ‘take leave where leave cannot be granted under any other provision’.

Managers/supervisors should make case-by-case assessments in relation to other casuals. While other casuals may not be eligible for ongoing payments, they should be paid for any shifts that had already been offered and accepted.

The Chief Health Officer provides direction in relation to when individuals are required to self-isolate. More information can be accessed at health.act.gov.au.

You should ensure that your manager/supervisor knows that you may need to be self-isolated and if that eventuates, you should submit the relevant leave form (COVID-19 leave or personal leave). Managers should refer to the protocol found on the Employment Portal.

The restrictions around schooling are being lifted and it is expected that when schools return to face-to-face learning, children will return to school or childcare. This enables employees who cannot work from home to return to the workplace, and COVID-19 leave will no longer be available for the purpose of dealing with school/childcare closures.

However, you may be concerned about the risk of COVID-19 to vulnerable family members if your child returns to school. If you choose to keep your child at home, you should discuss this with your manager and the appropriate leave type in this circumstance would be annual leave.

If you are concerned about the welfare of your child, especially in the case that your child is in a vulnerable category due to significant health issues, you should discuss your circumstances with your manager/supervisor as soon as possible to put arrangements in place to work from home if practicable and appropriate.

If you cannot work from home, you should make arrangements with your manager to take leave. In circumstances where you run out of leave, ‘COVID-19 leave’ on compassionate grounds may be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The COVID-19 situation is rapidly changing how we work. Increasing numbers of employees will be working from home and our health systems will be stretched. It is not appropriate under these circumstances to apply onerous evidence requirements. For example, it would create an unnecessary burden on our health system if medical certificates were required to the same extent as previously. Also – it may not be possible or appropriate for employees to provide statutory declarations, which require contact with justices of the peace or other authorised people.

Managers should exercise judgement and only require formal evidence where there is a good reason for doing so and should be flexible with the type of evidence requested and accepted.

Where an employee reports for work exhibiting symptoms or signs of possible infection and the employer holds a reasonable belief that they may have contracted COVID-19, or the employee has recently returned from travel overseas without having self-isolated for the exclusion period, the employee may be directed to take leave or not to attend the workplace due to isolation requirements.

Access to ‘take leave where leave cannot be granted under any other provision’ also applies where employees are unable to attend work because they are reliant on public transport and those services are suspended or cancelled and flexible work arrangements are not possible.

Public transport includes buses and light rail. Public transport does not include private ride sharing arrangements such as taxis, uber or carpooling. However, special consideration should be given to employees with a disability who are normally reliant on these forms of travel to work.

To maintain business functions, employees may be directed to undertake their normal duties at an alternative workplace, or alternate duties that are critical which are within the employee’s skills and abilities.

Payment of ‘leave where leave cannot be granted under any other provision’ or other forms of leave while an employee is home-isolated will include any higher duties amount the employee would have received had they not been on leave.

Payment of ‘leave where leave cannot be granted under any other provision’ also applies where employees are absent from work because they are fulfilling volunteer roles in the community related to COVID-19, such as assisting in a hospital or an aged care facility, and that absence is authorised by the employer.

Yes. During the COVID-19 crisis, it may become necessary to deploy workers, including casual workers, in roles outside their normal range of tasks. For example, an administrative worker who normally takes patient registrations in a medical clinic may be temporarily re-tasked to drive urgent courier runs for ACT Pathology.

Where this occurs, workers will not have their take home pay reduced and the deployment will be consistent with the skill set and training of the employee. No employee will be placed in an unsafe situation as a result.

Any temporary changes to an employee’s role will be needs driven and done in consultation with the employee and where they choose, their representatives.

Even if your child is not unwell, you should not bring them into work. Children are often asymptomatic and could pass viruses on without knowing. Also, with strict social distancing rules it is important that we limit the number of people in our workplaces as much as possible. If you need to care for a child as a result of school or child-care changes, you should discuss working from home options with your manager.

The temporary removal of office-based assets may be approved by directorates. Employees must seek approval from their manager or delegate and ensure assets being removed are recorded and accounted for. Approval to remove equipment must only be granted where needed to ensure a safe and suitable working from home arrangement or to ensure that essential and critical functions are able to be performed from home.

Many employees are not able to work from home. However, they may still need to access flexibility while continuing to work such as around hours or work locations to manage COVID-19 related changes. This could include changing offices to avoid public transport, or to shorten the commute to better work in around child care arrangements.

It could also mean working shorter hours in circumstances where children are still in school, but after school care arrangements have changed or ceased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees should still continue to be paid in accordance with the same flexibility provisions that apply to employees working from home for COVID-19 related reasons, in accordance with the Employment Entitlement advice.

Managers and employees should be flexible about how, where and when work is performed to ensure we can continue to serve our community in these extraordinary circumstances.

There is no requirement to exhaust other leave types first. The purpose of ‘COVID-19’ leave is to ensure that employees can help keep our community safe by complying with health directions and advice, in circumstances where they are ready and able to work, but cannot attend the workplace for COVID-19 related reasons such as isolation requirements, changes to school arrangements, workplace closures etc.

The expectation is that the employee remains available to work, should suitable work become available, provided it is not precluded by COVID-19 related carers requirements.

If you are unwell you need to access your personal leave. Further, if you wish to take time off without being ready to be called on to perform work, then you should apply for annual or other leave in accordance with the normal EA provisions.

The Government has made a policy decision to extend any existing temporary employment contracts for a further 3 months. The Government may consider further temporary employment contract extensions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

This commitment will apply to any temporary employment contract which is due to finish from April 2020 to September 2020. For example:

  • if a temporary employee has a contract expiring in April 2020, the Government would offer an extension to July 2020;
  • if a temporary employee has a contract expiring in July 2020, the Government would offer an extension to October 2020;
  • if a temporary employee has a contract expiring in September 2020, the Government would offer an extension to December 2020.

If directorates and agencies are unable to utilise a temporary employee in the same position, the employee may be reassigned to other duties either within the directorate/agency or to another directorate/ agency in accordance with the ACTPS guidance: Emergency-Response-ACTPS-Staff-Entitlements-During-Novel-Coronavirus-COVID-19.

There is no need to use ‘COVID-19 Leave’ to ‘make up’ for hours like you would with flextime. Even if an employee only does a percentage of what they otherwise would, they are considered to be working. The employee may not necessarily be completing all their hours in a day or in a week. The distinguishing factor is whether the employee is willing and available to work. The focus should be on output rather than hours and a high degree of flexibility and understanding is required from both employer and employee at this time.

Equally, an employee who is on ‘COVID-19 Leave’ (for instance because there are insufficient duties they can perform from home) can still be asked to perform some work. They would not need to be taken off COVID-19 Leave every time, if they just do a few hours here or there. It’s a judgement call whether they are working more than they are not working and vice versa.

In the event that an employee does not want to work and not be available to work, they should take leave in the normal fashion, or negotiate a part-time arrangement. That may include a circumstance where an employee does not want to be ‘working’ on a particular day of the week, or only wants to be contactable for a set number of hours on any given day.

On all the other days however, the employee is still available to try and get their full-time (or part-time) output done (with the focus on output rather than hours). That doesn’t mean they always get there, although some days they may do more than they would in the office. The key is that the employee is willing and available, and try to get the work done around their other responsibilities.

Where that line is drawn would vary on the individual circumstances of each case.

If you have caring responsibilities for your family member then it is appropriate that you take carer’s leave as you would do in normal circumstances where you are caring for someone who is ill. If you are unavailable to work because you are looking after someone you do not stand ready and able to be productively tasked if the need arises. An employee who is on ‘COVID-19 Leave’ (for instance because there are insufficient duties they can perform from home) can still be asked to perform some work and is expected to be ready and willing to do so.

If an immediate family member is diagnosed with COVID-19 and you do not have any caring responsibilities for them, but you are directed to self-isolate you should work from home in the first instance. If you cannot work from home, COVID-19 leave is available and can still be required to perform some duties, should they become available. If you subsequently fall ill, you should instead be accessing personal leave.

If your child can return to school or childcare and you are unable to work from home it is expected that you will return to the workplace, unless you have been identified as a vulnerable worker.

If you are currently working remotely from home, you are encouraged to continue to work from home until further restrictions are lifted.