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Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance note for the Victorian Public Service and Sector

Employment guidance for employers and employees in the Victorian Public Service and Sector.

Please note that we have consolidated the two previously separate Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance Notes for the Public Service and Public Sector into this one document. 

If you tried to visit the previous versions of the Guidance Notes online, you have been automatically redirected to this page.

1. Introduction

This Guidance Note sets out the approach to be taken to managing leave and other supports for employees impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

For general and up-to-date advice regarding coronavirus (COVID-19), please visit the Department of Health (DH) website.

Employers should ensure that employees have access to up-to-date information from the Commonwealth Government and DH about coronavirus (COVID-19), and employees should familiarise themselves with that information. 

2. Application

2.1 Public Service and Sector

This Guidance Note applies to all employers and employees in the Victorian Public Service (including employees covered by the Victorian Public Service Enterprise Agreement 2020) and Victorian Public Sector, except employers and employees employed in the:

  • Victorian Public Health Sector
  • Victorian Schools Sector
  • Victoria Police and other emergency services.

Separate policies will apply to employers and employees in these sectors, consistent with this Guidance Note where practicable.

For the avoidance of doubt, this Guidance Note applies to the Victorian TAFE (Technical and Further Education) Sector.

Victorian Public Service and Sector employers covered by this Guidance Note may implement local measures to supplement the advice provided herein. Local measures may address particular operational issues specific to their agency which are not covered by this guidance.

Any employer covered by this guidance seeking to depart from the sector-wide guidance or implement anything that is inconsistent with this guidance material must contact their portfolio department and Industrial Relations Victoria and gain approval to do so.

2.2. Contractors and their staff

While the information in this Guidance Note focuses primarily on arrangements for the Victorian public sector, the Victorian Government expects that companies and businesses that supply services to the Victorian public sector on a contract basis (contractors), labour hire providers and private providers of Government services will seriously consider extending similar leave provisions to their employees.

Both Victorian public sector employers and contractors have occupational health and safety obligations to ensure the workplace is safe and without risks to the health of employees and others. This includes assessing and managing infection risk possibilities in both directions – that is, the risk of bringing coronavirus (COVID-19) into the Victorian public sector as well as coming into contact with it there.

Victorian public sector employers are encouraged to share this Guidance Note with contractors.

3. Employees exposed or at risk of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19)

3.1. Advice regarding self-quarantine (self-isolation)

Employees are expected to self-quarantine (self-isolate) where recommended or required in accordance with the advice of Victoria’s Chief Health Officer.

For up-to-date advice regarding self-quarantine (self-isolation), please visit the DH website

Employers and employees should also refer to the Commonwealth Government’s home isolation guidance.

Information is also available on the Commonwealth Government's Smart Traveller website.

3.2. Payment during absence from work due to a COVID-19 risk – ongoing and fixed-term employees

3.2.1 Employees who have contracted coronavirus (COVID-19)

Where an employee is not fit for work because of a personal illness affecting the employee, including infection with coronavirus (COVID-19), the employee may access their accrued personal/carer’s leave entitlement in accordance with the relevant enterprise agreement that applies to their employment. Where the employee does not have enough accrued personal leave to cover a period of absence associated with a coronavirus (COVID-19) infection, either other paid and unpaid leave entitlements can be used (for example, Annual Leave or Long Service Leave), or access to paid Special Leave will be considered appropriately by employers on a case-by-case basis.

Where the employee has contracted an illness in the course of their duties, the employee may lodge a WorkCover claim.

3.2.2. Where the employee is a carer for an affected family/household member

Where an employee is absent from work to care for a family or household member who is required to self-quarantine (self-isolate), the employee may make arrangements with the employer to work from home for some or all of the self-quarantine (self-isolation) period where reasonable, practical and appropriate in light of the caring responsibilities of the employee.

Otherwise, the employee may either access their accrued personal/carer’s leave entitlement (including where the member of their household or immediate family member is diagnosed with COVID-19) or another type of accrued leave, or access to paid Special Leave will be considered appropriately by employers on a case-by-case basis.

Employers and employees should note that an employee who is a carer for a family or household member who is diagnosed as having coronavirus (COVID-19) might themselves become subject to a Victorian Chief Health Officer requirement to self-quarantine (self-isolate) or absence from work requirements.

3.2.3. Where the employee is required to self-quarantine (self-isolate)

An employee who is required to self-quarantine (self-isolate) in accordance with the advice of Victoria’s Chief Health Officer but is not unwell or has not been diagnosed with coronavirus (COVID-19) may be required by their employer to work from home for some or all of the self-quarantine (self-isolation) period where reasonable, practical and appropriate.

Alternatively, employees may access any specific leave entitlement available to them under the applicable enterprise agreement.

An employee who is not unwell but is required to self-quarantine (self-isolate) on the advice of Victoria’s Chief Health Officer or DH and where working from home is not reasonable, practical and appropriate, will be granted paid Special Leave to cover the required self-quarantine (self-isolation) period (subject to the exception for voluntary employee travel below).

The rate of payment for paid Special Leave will be in accordance with section 6.3 of this Guidance Note.

In these circumstances the employer may require the employee to provide a statutory declaration or other reasonable evidence to substantiate the requirement to self-quarantine (self-isolate). Where evidence is required an employee must provide it to be eligible for the paid Special Leave.

Where during any self-quarantine (self-isolation) period on paid Special Leave, the employee becomes unwell (whether with COVID-19 or another illness) or is required to care for a member of the employee’s immediate family or household member, the paid Special Leave will cease and the employee may access accrued paid personal/carer’s leave in accordance with the applicable enterprise agreement.

Where an employee is on paid Special Leave under this section is tested and found not to be infected with coronavirus (COVID-19), the employee can continue to access paid Special Leave for the balance of the self-quarantine (self-isolation) period.

Where the employee chose to travel to or through any domestic or international destination for which restrictions apply after the destination was listed as ‘do not travel’ or ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ in the Commonwealth Government’s advisory (or identified on the  Smartraveller website) or identified on the Victorian travel permit system webpage, it is expected that employees will use their personal/carer’s leave or another type of accrued leave. Access to additional paid Special Leave will not be available in this case.

3.2.4. Where the employee is in a higher risk category

On 20 July 2020, 20 days paid Special Leave (pro rata for part time employees) was granted to employees who are in the following ‘higher risk’ categories:

  • people aged 70 years and older 
  • people aged 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions 
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees aged 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical condition(s)
  • people with compromised immune systems. 

Employees in these categories who are unable to attend the workplace due to their higher risk status, and where working from home is not reasonable, practical and appropriate, may continue to access any remaining Special Leave they have accrued until it is exhausted.  

The rate of payment for paid Special Leave will be in accordance with section 6.3 of this Guidance Note.

Paid Special Leave does not accumulate. Where an employee uses up all their paid Special Leave, they may access other accrued paid and unpaid leave entitlements (such as Personal/Carers Leave or Annual Leave).

These arrangements are subject to the provisions in sections 3.2.1, 3.2.2 and 3.2.3, which will apply instead in any of the circumstances provided for in those sections. 

Where during any period on paid Special Leave, the employee becomes unwell (whether diagnosed with coronavirus (COVID-19) or another illness) or is required to care for a member of the Employee’s immediate family or household member, the paid Special Leave will cease, and the employee may access accrued paid personal/carer’s leave in accordance with the applicable enterprise agreement.

Where a ‘higher risk’ employee has a chronic medical condition(s), the employer may require the employee to provide a statutory declaration or other reasonable evidence to prove the chronic medical condition. Where such evidence is required by the employer, the employee must provide that evidence to be eligible for paid Special Leave. Employers should be aware of the Aboriginal Cultural Safety Framework and ensure that cultural safety is included in their decision making. 

3.3. Casual employees

Casual employees are also affected by the self-quarantine (self-isolation) and absence from work requirements above. A casual employee might also fall into a ‘higher risk’’ category. 

Typically, casual employees do not have paid personal or annual leave entitlements to draw upon, nor would they normally have access to paid Special Leave.

Nonetheless, casual employees are a valuable resource for the Victorian public sector and face the same infection risks as other employees.

Where a casual employee is required to self-quarantine (self-isolate) or otherwise be absent from work, or the casual employee falls into a ‘higher risk’’ category, the employer may make arrangements with the employee to work from home for some or all of the relevant period where reasonable, practical and appropriate in light of the health or caring responsibilities of the employee.

Where work from home arrangements are not reasonable, practical or appropriate, the following will apply:

  • Where a casual employee has been or is working with their public sector employer on a regular and systematic basis, and is anticipated to continue to be employed on a regular and systematic basis:
    • Paid Special Leave will be provided to cover any required period of self-quarantine (self-isolation) or period required to be absent from work due to illness related to coronavirus (COVID-19) (subject to the exception for voluntary employee travel in 3.2.4).  
    • Where the casual employee falls into a ‘higher risk’ category, from 20 July 2020, the employee will be entitled to paid Special Leave for either a two-week period reflective of the likely work pattern of the employee had they been at work, or in accordance with already rostered shifts for up to a four-week period. Paid Special Leave does not accumulate, meaning that employees will not have access to the balance of any paid Special Leave remaining from the first 20-day allocation.
    • The amount of paid Special Leave provided will be reflective of the likely work pattern for the employee concerned had they not been required to self-isolate. The rate of payment will be in accordance with section 6.3 of this Guidance Note.   
  • For casual employees who have not been, or are not, working for their Victorian public sector employer on a regular and systematic basis, employers should use their discretion in assessing appropriately whether or not to provide paid Special Leave or other financial assistance on a case by case basis.  

Where the employee chose to travel to or through any domestic or international destination for which restrictions apply after the destination was listed as ‘do not travel’ or ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ in the Commonwealth Government’s advisory (or identified on the  Smartraveller website), access to additional paid Special Leave will not be available in this case.

The employer may require the employee to provide a statutory declaration or other reasonable evidence to substantiate the requirement to self-quarantine (self-isolate) or their status as being in a 'higher risk' category. Where evidence is required an employee must provide it to be eligible for the paid Special Leave or other financial assistance (as relevant).

3.4. Independent contractors

Independent contractors are also affected by the self-quarantine (self-isolation) and absence from work requirements above and face the same infection risk as direct employees.

Employers are encouraged to consider the financial impact on independent contractors and find accommodations that avoid or mitigate their financial disadvantage where they are required to be absent from the workplace through no fault of their own.

4. Safe working practices 

4.1 General obligations

Employers and employees have mutual obligations to ensure the workplace is safe and without risks to the health of employees and others.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (OHS Act) provides that employers must – as far as is reasonably practicable – eliminate, or otherwise minimise risks to health and safety.

The OHS Act also requires employees to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and the health and safety of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions at the workplace. Employees must also cooperate with their employer with respect to any action taken by the employer to comply with the OHS Act. Employers should communicate and work with their employees to identify risks in the workplace. This includes understanding which of their employees may themselves be vulnerable to infection and adverse consequences from coronavirus (COVID-19), including employees that are eligible for paid Special Leave in section 3.2.4 of this Guidance Note.

Similarly, employees must take appropriate precautions by following policies and procedures aimed at reducing risk and by informing their employer of risks in and to the workplace, including where their own personal circumstances might contribute to those risks. Employees must comply as far as is reasonably possible with lawful and reasonable instructions given to them by their employer so that the employer can comply with its responsibilities.

Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and to not adversely affect the health and safety of others. Employees should be reminded to always practice good hygiene and take other measures to protect themselves and others against infection.

Further information about specific requirements can be found on the WorkSafe website and the relevant employer’s COVID-safe plan.

4.2 Employee notification

Employees (including casual employees) and independent contractors are required to notify the employer immediately if they have been exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19) or are required to self-isolate based on Victoria’s Chief Health Officer guidance or direction.

Employers should respond according to Victoria’s Chief Health Officer’s guidelines, including where provided for, by directing the employee not to attend work during the risk period.

Access to work-at-home arrangements, paid or unpaid leave will be in accordance with sections 3.2 and 3.3 in this Guidance Note.

4.3. Other exclusions from the workplace

Employers should consider excluding other people from their workplaces, including visitors, contractors and volunteers who would be required under Commonwealth or DH guidance to self-quarantine (self-isolate) or otherwise not attend the workplace.

Appropriate signage and other notices should be visible and relevant information should be otherwise be made available to those likely to be affected by such restrictions.

4.4. Minimising unlawful discrimination and vilification

It is likely that coronavirus (COVID-19) would be characterised as a ‘disability’ for the purposes of anti-discrimination laws.

Employers have a responsibility to ensure that employees are not unlawfully discriminated against, knowingly or unknowingly, by their managers, their colleagues and the organisation. Employers should remain aware of the potential for heightened unlawful discrimination in the workplace during a time of heightened public health concerns and possible pandemic.

Noting the advice of the Victorian Chief Health Officer regarding employees aged over 70 years, 65 years with a pre-existing condition and Indigenous people aged over 50, employers should be mindful of their obligations to not unlawfully discriminate against employees because of their age. Where an employee in this category seeks to continue to attend work, concerns about the employee’s safety should be discussed and alternative arrangements implemented wherever possible.

5. Assigning and managing work 

5.1 General

Employers might need to adopt policies and arrangements that allow a dynamic response to how, when and where work is to be performed and by whom. Employers should also be alive to concerns and reservations that staff might have about working with members of the public exposed to or infected by coronavirus (COVID-19).

Employers may require staff to work from home or from alternative work locations for periods of time. Employers may test or trial some arrangements in advance to ensure systems and ways of working are practical in the event of changed directions. Employees may be required to undertake different duties for a period of time, within an employee’s skills and classification level.

Employers are reminded that they must comply with their obligations under all relevant industrial instruments to consult with their employees and employee’s unions on matters as required by those industrial instruments, and generally as a good people-management principle. That consultation must be managed locally where the matters are local – for example, changes to rosters or roster patterns, or assignment to different work or work locations.

Employees (and their unions) will be better placed to respond quickly and positively to proposed workplace changes arising from coronavirus (COVID-19) where they feel they are informed and have had an opportunity to contribute to how those changes will be implemented. Again, local matters of change and consultation must be managed locally.

Employers should consider also any additional entitlements under the relevant enterprise agreement that may apply.

5.2. Leave arrangements for school or childcare centre closures, or remote and flexible learning arrangements

The following arrangements will apply if an employee is unable to attend work because they need to care for an affected family or household member on the advice of Victoria’s Chief Health Officer due to:

  • a school moving to remote or flexible learning
  • the closure of a school
  • the closure of a childcare centre

5.2.1. Ongoing and fixed-term employees

Except where an employee elects to use accrued personal/carer’s leave, employees may be required by the employer to work from home where reasonable, practicable and appropriate.

Where working from home is not reasonable, practicable and appropriate, the employee will be granted, as of 20 July 2020, a maximum of 20 days paid Special Leave (pro-rata for part-time employees).

Paid Special Leave may be used in a single unbroken period or in multiple periods as agreed with the employer.

Paid Special Leave for care of school aged children is not available for use during scheduled Victorian school holidays.

The rate of payment will be in accordance with section 6.3 of this Guidance Note. 

Where an employee exhausts their paid Special Leave, the employee may access other accrued paid and unpaid leave entitlements (such as Personal/Carers Leave or Annual Leave).

These arrangements are subject to the provisions in section 3.2, which will apply instead in any of the circumstances provided for in that section. 

5.2.2 Casual employees

Casual employees may be required by their employer to work from home where reasonable, practicable and appropriate.

Where working from home is not reasonable, practicable and appropriate, the following will apply:

  • Where a casual employee has been or is working in the VPS on a regular and systematic basis, and is anticipated to continue to be employed on a regular and systematic basis, the employee will be entitled to paid Special Leave for either:
    • as of 20 July 2020, a two-week period reflective of the likely work pattern of the employee had they been at work, or
    • in accordance with already rostered shifts for up to a four-week period.
  • For casual employees who have not been, or are not, working in the VPS on a regular and systematic basis, employers should use their discretion in assessing appropriately whether or not to provide paid Special Leave or other financial assistance on a case-by-case basis.

Paid Special Leave may be used in a single unbroken period or in multiple periods as agreed with the employer.

Paid Special Leave for care of school-aged children is not available for use during scheduled Victorian school holidays.

The period of paid Special Leave available to an employee under this section is reduced by any paid Special Leave the employee has previously taken in respect of the closure or reduced functioning of their employer’s business.

The rate of payment will be in accordance with section 6.3 of this guidance note. 

These arrangements are subject to the provisions in section 3.3, which will apply instead in any of the circumstances provided for in that section. 

6. Managing leave requests

Employees are and remain entitled to request and to take leave in accordance with the relevant enterprise agreement and the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

Where approval is discretionary for the type of leave requested, that discretion should be exercised cautiously and in consultation with the employee. If leave is to be disallowed for operational reasons – such as staffing shortages or higher workloads influenced by coronavirus (COVID-19) – this should be made clear and all alternatives to disallowing the requested period of leave be explored and discounted. The employer might also seek to negotiate a different period of leave or for the leave to be taken at a different time.

6.1. Evidentiary requirements

Many employees will require leave during a time of heightened threats to public health for a variety of reasons. In a pandemic or other emergency that affects public health, employees may find that access to medical practitioners is limited. Employers should establish local procedures for recording and approving applications for leave during this period, which are, at a minimum, consistent with the documentary evidence requirements outlined in the relevant enterprise agreements.

Employers may wish to consider a more flexible approach to the evidentiary requirements set out in relevant enterprise agreement in circumstances where access to medical practitioners is limited, visiting a medical practitioner may otherwise not be advisable or possible and telehealth facilities are not available. For example, the employer may by accept statutory declarations in place of the requirement for the provision of a medical certificate.

6.2. Leave cancellations and extensions

Given the propensity of travel restrictions to arise with short notice, some employees may want to cancel, extend or defer previously approved periods of Annual Leave or Long Service Leave.

Employers should be flexible in accommodating employees’ requests to extend or cancel leave requests.

Recrediting of leave may also apply where employees in a ‘higher risk’ category are required to be absent from work and have already accessed other leave types. 

Exceptions may occur where the employee has an excessive Annual Leave balance and the approved period of leave was part of leave plan to reduce the excessive balance or where recruitment action has occurred, and a replacement employee has been engaged to cover the agreed period of leave.

Employers should be mindful that they may be asking their employees to cancel previously agreed leave arrangements to help meet community demand, so corresponding flexibility with employees’ request to cancel previously agreed leave arrangements will help to engender co-operation on this front.

Employees’ requests to convert a period of Annual Leave of Long Service Leave to paid Special Leave should be considered on a case-by-case basis informed by other information contained in this Guidance Note.

Further, employees and employers are encouraged to access accrued leave (for example annual leave), including for short periods such as a day or half day, where needed to assist in managing employee wellbeing.

6.3. Rate of pay during periods of leave or absence

Where an employee is absent on leave with pay from the workplace under this guidance note, the following will be used to determine the ordinary rate of pay for the purposes of determining an employee’s salary during their absence:

  • If the leave or absence is covered by an existing leave entitlement under the relevant enterprise agreement (for example, Personal/Carers Leave) the ordinary rate of pay will be calculated in accordance with the provisions of the enterprise agreement,
  • If the leave is Special Leave granted under this Guidance Note, the ordinary rate of pay will be calculated by reference to the definition of ’Salary’, as outlined in clause 2 of the VPS Agreement where that agreement applies, and otherwise the rate of pay the employee ordinarily receives in the course of their duties, excluding payment for overtime, shift work, stand by, travel allowance, incidental expenses or any other payment of a temporary character.

7. Employee assistance program and debriefing

Employers who run employee assistance programs or similar should ensure all employees are aware of these programs and can access them if they have concerns about how coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting them, their family or their colleagues.

Employers should ensure that appropriate peer-support and debriefing is available for employees directly involved in the testing and treatment of patients suspected to have and who have contracted coronavirus (COVID-19).

Reviewed 06 April 2021

Government employment guides - Coronavirus

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