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Remote working policy and allowances for public service employees

Guidance and support for Victorian public service employees working from home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation

VPS coronavirus (COVID-19) policy and operational guidance

This policy is designed to provide assistance and support to employees in the coronavirus (COVID-19) circumstances with many people working from home.

It replaces conventional remote/work from home policies that exist in Government departments.

The safety and wellbeing of employees is very important as we attempt to maintain business continuity across departments, and government more generally.

Health and safety assessments of remote working environments continue to be encouraged; these will need to be realistic and consider what employees may currently have at home or have ready access to.

To ensure we all remain connected, employees are encouraged to work with their manager to determine matters such as work hours, outcomes, access to systems and information, communication plans and checking in to monitor wellbeing.

There is a range of guidance material available to support working from home arrangements. This includes your department’s Flexible Work Policy, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance note for the Victorian Public Service and the Victorian Public Service Enterprise Agreement 2016. Where this guidance note may differ from your Flexible Work Policy, it will prevail until advised otherwise.

It is acknowledged that departments have varying workforces, systems and resources, and may be able to provide additional support not outlined in this policy. This guidance can be adjusted in accordance with departmental policies and operating environments and will be communicated where applicable. It applies to all ongoing, fixed-term and casual employees of VPS employers who are required to work from home during the COVID-19 response period. This policy may also apply to labour hire employees or contractors engaged directly by VPS employers to undertake work on their behalf, if that work is continuing and they are required to continue to undertake work remotely over this period.

Principles to be applied

Remote work arrangements are now in place

Most VPS employees, where they are able, should be working remotely in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) environment.

All employees are encouraged to play an active role in best managing workload and health and safety issues during this time. Teams may need to consider the way work is designed, distributed or shared throughout teams when working remotely.

Remote working should only be undertaken at the direction of management or after discussion with your manager.

Even during this time, the aim of remote work arrangements are to have a positive or at least neutral impact on both the employee and the department in terms of work output and key deliverables.

Remote work arrangements should take into consideration the:

  • fairness and reasonableness the current operating context
  • the personal and/or family circumstances of the employee
  • business continuity

Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is critical for staff wellbeing

Wellbeing is a priority as employees learn to work in different ways in this uncertain time.

To assist remote work, employees are encouraged to complete the OHS working remotely form (which includes a Working Remotely Checklist and Workstation Ergonomic Self-Assessment). Employees are encouraged to:

  • discuss their completed form with their manager to assist in understanding and supporting their remote work environment
  • email a copy of the completed self-assessment form to their manager (and keep a copy for record management purposes)

Employees who have already completed a form as part of a previous remote working arrangement do not need to complete it again.

It is requested that employees contact their manager if there are any circumstances that inhibit their ability to work remotely.

Reasonable adjustments enable employees with a disability or injury to safely perform the inherent requirements of their job. If you require an adjustment, please contact your manager and People and Culture team for advice and assistance.

All employees are encouraged to take regular breaks, stretch when they are able and avoid sitting for long periods.

There are additional leave options available during this time

Employees who or are unwell or are caring for someone who is unwell and needs ongoing attention are encouraged to put their needs first. In this instance employees should access personal or carer’s leave or any other leave available in the circumstances (such as paid Special Leave under the Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance note for the Victorian Public Service).

Similarly, if childcare is required, but not available, employees can access carer’s leave or any other leave available in the circumstances. Discretion can be applied where employees are able to work effectively while undertaking some caring responsibilities (e.g. an older child/children, shared caring responsibilities with another parent or guardian). Employees should consider, in conjunction with their manager, to what extent the caring responsibility impacts your ability to work effectively. Unless employees elect to use accrued personal/carer’s leave, they may be required by the department to work from home where reasonable, practicable and appropriate. In this circumstance it is expected that managers and employees approach the issue flexibly and practically, to allow work from home where it can be achieved within individual caring circumstances.  

Employees are encouraged to contact their manager in advance if they need to take personal/carer’s leave. This leave should be lodged in your department’s leave system as you would normally.

There should be open communication and support while working remotely

Employees should be available and contactable by managers, colleagues and stakeholders as per a normal working day in the office.

Teams are encouraged to discuss and agree how and when they will communicate to stay in touch and support each other. This might include team meetings, 1:1 catch-ups, buddy chats and local protocols for managing everyday electronic communications.

Managers are encouraged to check in with employees regularly to discuss how work priorities are progressing and discuss any emerging issues.

Employees are permitted to access office equipment to support remote work subject to approval from their manager

Employees that have already taken items from the Office and commenced working remotely should let their manager know so details can be recorded.

Employees who are yet to transition to working remotely and would like to take items from their desk should speak to their manager and get their approval. This could include keyboards and mice. If permission is granted, registers should be established in each department to record the item/s provided.

For items an employee would like relocated but cannot be taken home safely (such as chairs or monitors on public transport), departments can provide them with a taxi voucher, or the cost of a taxi can be claimed back from the department at a later time.

For employees who have specific items as a result of prior workplace OHS assessments, or a disability, arrangements can be made with their department to have those items transported to your home.

Employees who have already transitioned to working remotely should not return to their workplace unless it is essential to do so. This is in keeping with the Premier’s advice for people to stay at home.

Employees will be provided with a remote work allowance to cover expenses

Employees working remotely will receive a one-off payment of $100 for home office expenses. Employees may be able to claim additional expenses as a tax deduction but should seek independent advice about this that is specific to their circumstances.

Employees will be entitled to a remote work allowance of $20 per week for home office consumables and utilities.  

Departments will endeavour to administer both the one-off payment and weekly allowance through their payroll, while giving regard to their own local operating environment and systems. Due to the circumstances, there may be a lag in processing these payments so please be patient.

In the current environment, these revised arrangements are considered prudent noting that under conventional policies employees may have been able to claim back more than $100 worth of expenses from Departments.

Key roles and responsibilities for implementing and maintaining this policy

Role Responsibilities
Employees 
  • discuss any workplace adjustments that you require with your manager
  • consider how you could meet stakeholder needs and perform your role while working remotely
  • give regard to the separation of work and domestic commitments
  • ensure security and confidentiality of work
  • notify your manager immediately if you feel unsafe, or if there are any hazards identified whilst working remotely
  • stay connected and maintain appropriate communication links with your manager and work colleagues
  • regularly review your remote work arrangements
Managers 
  • provide all reasonable support to staff to be safe and productive while working remotely
  • reach out to your People and Culture Team if you need assistance in relation to this guidance note
  • be available for confidential discussions regarding remote working arrangements
  • consider and support alternative arrangements that balance both the employee and business/operational needs
  • assess remote work arrangements on a case by case basis
  • consider and monitor if remote work location meets health and safety standards and address hazards identified
  • support employee workplace adjustments carrying over to remote working arrangements and regularly review adjustments with employees
  • assess if employees can safely transport desk items home and investigate options for transport support if required
  • advise employee’s colleagues of any new work arrangements
  • regularly reassess remote work arrangements and the team’s ability to continue to accommodate the arrangement
  • check in with employees from time to time, to discuss how work priorities are progressing and discuss any emerging issues
  • if a remote work arrangement cannot be accommodated, contact your People and Culture team for advice and identification of options

People and Culture / Safety &  Wellbeing team

  • provide support and safety and wellbeing advice to manager regarding the implementation of COVID-19 remote work arrangements.
  • provide advice to support comprehensive and accurate records of all aspects regarding the application of remote work.

The OHS remote working form

The OHS Remote Working Form provides helpful tips and guidance for employees working remotely. All employees are encouraged to review and complete this form.

Allowances for working remotely

Payment details

The payments comprise of:

  • a one-off $100 payment for employees to purchase equipment to meet their remote working requirements
  • a weekly $20 allowance for home office consumables and utilities

In the current environment, these revised arrangements are considered prudent noting that under conventional policies, employees may have been able to claim back more than $100 worth of expenses from departments. No further expense claims for equipment will be accepted by employers following the issuing of these payments.

The $20 weekly allowance will continue to be paid to VPS employees working remotely until a direction is provided from either the Victorian Government or their employer that they may cease working remotely and return to their usual place of work. Further information on the payments is provided below.

Eligibility for payments

VPS employees are eligible for the payment and weekly allowances if they:

  • are in roles that can be worked remotely or have been provided with alternative duties that can be worked remotely
  • are continuing to work remotely as requested by the direction made on 23 March 2020
  • are paid by their VPS employer through their payroll system

Executive Officers are also included for the one-off payment and weekly allowance.

The following staff are eligible for the one-off $100 payment and weekly $20 allowance:

Employee type Payments to be provided
Ongoing or fixed term – working remotely Yes
Casual employee – working remotely Yes
Trainees Yes
Ongoing, fixed term or casual employees on leave without pay that includes
23 March 2020 and continuing beyond this date
No
Ongoing or fixed term employees on paid leave that includes 23 March 2020 and continuing beyond this date No
Ongoing, fixed term or casual employees continuing to work in their usual work location (due to the nature of their work) No
Contractors/consultants No
Labour hire staff No

Notes:

  1. Employees on long term leave without pay as at 23 March 2020 are not eligible for the payments under this policy on its commencement but may become eligible upon their return to work (see below for further guidance).
  2. While labour hire employees are not entitled to payments under this Policy, the Government expects companies and businesses that supply services to the VPS on a contract basis (contractors), labour hire providers and private providers of Government services to consider extending similar supports to their employees.
  3. Employers should engage with their traineeship providers to provide equivalent financial support to their trainees and be charged accordingly.

Arrangements for employees currently on secondment to a VPS employer

Employees on secondment to a VPS employer should receive:

  • the $100 payment from the secondment host employer if they were on that employer’s payroll on 23 March 2020
  • the $20 weekly payments from that employer if they continue to perform their secondment role remotely

The secondee will commence receiving the weekly payments from their substantive VPS employer upon return from secondment. This only applies where the employee is in a role that can be worked remotely or can be provided alternative duties that can be worked remotely, and they commence working remotely.

Employee types exempt from receiving payments

Only employees whose roles allow them to work remotely and who are likely to incur additional expenses in working remotely are eligible to receive payments.

Employees on leave

VPS employees on leave (paid or unpaid) who are not currently working will not qualify for the payment, until their leave ends and they resume working remotely for their employer. This includes employees on personal leave or special leave as at 23 March 2020 and who are continuing to be on leave.

Upon their leave ending and where the employee is in a role that can be worked remotely and they commence working remotely, the employee will become eligible for the $100 equipment payment and can commence receiving the weekly $20 utilities allowance from their remote working date onwards. Each department will need to identify employees who may need to receive these payments based on their eligibility date and make arrangements to administer their payments through their payroll.

Labour hire staff and consultants or contractors

Labour hire staff and consultants/contractors are not considered VPS employees as they are not employed as direct employees of the department (an invoicing arrangement typically exists for payment of services). Labour hire staff and consultants/contractors should check with their own employer for similar payments that may be available to them.

Leave during the remote working period

VPS employees who take leave during the remote working period will not receive the $20 weekly allowance for any full weeks that they are on leave. If employees take leave for less than their normal weekly hours, such as for a day of personal leave, the $20 allowance will still be provided for that week.

New starters during the remote working period

New starters who commence work with a VPS employer over this period, if they are able to commence working remotely from the time of their engagement, will be eligible to receive the $100 payment and the $20 weekly payments. For those transferring employment within the VPS, new starters who have been paid the $100 payment already from a previous VPS employer will not receive it again from their new VPS employer.

Further information on payments for eligible employees and VPS employers

  1. Current VPS employees will be back-paid the weekly allowances as at the date of the direction to commence remote working (Monday 23 March 2020).
  2. Payments will be made as a taxable allowance through the employer’s payroll system. This will appear on employee payslips as a separate line indicating the allowance.
  3. It is recommended that a new allowance type be created in the payroll system. The payroll provider should use STP Field ‘Other PAYEVNTEMP8’ to ensure correct reporting, as per the ATO’s STP Business Implementation Guide.
  4. Payments will not be paid pro rata – all eligible employees regardless of their work hours will receive the $100 one-off payment and the $20 weekly allowance.
  5. As a taxable allowance paid through payroll, it will be subject to PAYG tax deductions each fortnight, and also be included in rateable remuneration for payroll tax and workcover on-costs.  
  6. Due to the nature of the allowance, as an expense allowance (with a reasonable expectation that the employee will fully expend the allowance in the course of carrying out employment duties) superannuation on-costs do not apply.
  7. As the allowance amount will be part of their taxable income, employees will be able to claim eligible expenses against the allowance when finalising their tax returns, in accordance with applicable ATO policies and guidelines. 
  8. Employees will need to obtain their own advice in relation to their tax affairs, as the eligible expenses claimable through the ATO may be higher or lower than the allowance they have received.
  9. As the allowance will be paid as a taxable allowance, Fringe Benefits Tax will not apply.
  10. Each department is encouraged to give consideration to the timing of when the earliest payments can be made to their staff and the timing of subsequent allowances. Departments will endeavour to administer both the one-off payment and weekly allowance through their payroll, whilst giving regard to their own local operating environment and systems

Reviewed 08 May 2020

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