The PSA has received many enquiries regarding working arrangements during COVID-19, including issues around working from home and Special Leave.
While there are many different arrangements in place across the different areas of the public sector, they must all abide by the Premier’s Circular C2021-14 Employment Arrangements during COVID-19, as well as the NSW public health orders in place at the time.
While the public health orders are regularly updated to reflect current hotspots or additional restrictions, at this point in time they have all included the following direction.
Direction of Minister about working from home
The Minister directs that an employer must allow an employee to work at the employee’s place of residence if it is reasonably practicable to do so.
The Premier’s Circular then outlines the arrangements for the public sector. Sections of it have been reproduced below for ease of reference, but you can view the complete circular HERE.
Each agency, in accordance with its business continuity plan, is to operate as close to normal as possible during the COVID-19 outbreak, taking account of any protection measures recommended by NSW Health.
Unless employees are on approved leave (e.g. sick, annual, family and community services, special) during the COVID-19 outbreak they are to undertake their normal duties either at their usual workplace, utilising flexible working arrangements at home, or at an alternate location.
Where employees are working from home whilst also providing care to a family member, it is expected employees can balance caring responsibilities with their ability to undertake productive work, or other leave provisions can apply.
Where there is a requirement to ensure that each workplace remains open at all stages, agencies are to deploy employees in other areas of the business where possible. Employees may be:
- required to undertake different work (most likely for essential work) as directed in their own agency; or
- temporarily assigned to other government agencies to assist priority service delivery by those agencies pursuant to relevant legislative provisions.
Exclusion from the workplace
Where an employee is not sick but is directed not to attend the workplace due to isolation requirements, agencies should identify options for employees to work from home during the quarantine period. Where work is unable to be provided to these employees, they are to be paid as normal and are placed on paid special leave for up to 20 days.
Unable to work
Up to 20 days paid special leave will be provided, before other leave entitlements need to be accessed, to employees who are unable to work because they are:
- caring for sick family members;
- caring for family members due to closure of schools and caring facilities; or
- unable to attend work due to transport disruptions.
After the 20 days of special leave has been used, employees may access accrued leave entitlements (sick, annual, family and community services, extended/long service leave).
Workplace is closed
Where the workplace is closed, flexible work arrangements should be considered either at home or from another office location. Where work is unable to be provided to these employees, they are to be paid as normal and are placed on paid special leave.
Support for COVID-19 Vaccinations (effective from 16 July 2021)
To support employees receiving a Therapeutic Goods Administration approved vaccination for COVID-19, agencies may provide:
- flexible working arrangements to facilitate attendance at vaccination appointments, and/or
- access to special leave of up to two hours, or an equivalent payment at base rate of pay.
Managers will consider the reasonable business needs of their agency when assessing applications to attend vaccination appointments to ensure frontline service delivery is maintained.
The agency may require evidence to support applications for leave or payment under this clause.
If an employee receives the vaccine and experiences an adverse reaction, they may access paid sick leave entitlements. Where sick leave is exhausted, Agency heads may grant special sick leave on a case by case basis.
Special Leave – am I on call?
If working from home is not practical or work is unable to be provided, but you have been informed you are to stay at home on Special Leave, you are not required to remain “on call” to respond to urgent enquiries. However, it is reasonable to be asked to remain contactable, so that if you are required to either attend the workplace, or perform other duties this can be arranged. Consider the following example:
- Your workplace has implemented a roster system, in which some staff are on Special Leave at home, and some staff are attending the workplace.
It is reasonable to be told to remain contactable in case you are required to attend the workplace. Your circumstances must be taken in to account (i.e. any caring or parental arrangements you have put in place due to the fact you were placed on Special Leave).
It is unreasonable to be told to monitor emails or phone calls at all times during the day, and to remain “on call” to respond to ad hoc tasks. If your employer wants you to be available, then you should be considered as working from home and not exhausting your Special Leave.
The PSA is still operating during the pandemic. If you are having any issues with COVID working arrangements, or have an enquiry, please contact the PSA Member Support Centre on 1300 772 679.