COVID-19 UPDATE & FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS 13 March 2020

13-Mar-2020


ASMOF continues to work closely with the NSW Government, NSW Health and other Unions to discuss emerging issues relating to COVID-19 and concerns that our members have raised.

We are meeting with senior officials from NSW Health every Monday.

This is the process through which we received the guarantee that employees who may have been in contact with people who are infected with COVID-19 will be on paid special leave for any quarantine period.

We have also been successful in NSW Health to allow new employees during their first three months of employment to access paid sick leave and to provide additional paid sick leave (determined on a case by case basis) when an employee has exhausted their sick leave.

We have a number of issues that we will be discussing next week, including TESL, the adequacy of PPE and other WHS issues, better access to paid leave for casuals and locums and a range of JMO related matters. 

We will also be surveying members next week regarding the adequacy of PPE and other WHS matters. Please keep an eye out for that email.

This document will be regularly updated with the latest advice for members. If you have any specific concerns, feedback and questions related to COVID-19 please email allocation@asmof.org.au.

ASMOF is also part of a group of unions who are renegotiating a Memorandum of Understanding with the NSW Government regarding working arrangements in a Pandemic.

Q. What is the latest advice from NSW Health?

Keep up to date with the latest general COVID-19 information at the NSW Health website.

Following discussions with ASMOF on the 12th March NSW Health has released an updated Summary of Ministry of Health Workforce Advice.

Q. What happens if I need to self-isolate/or I’m quarantined from work?

Paid special leave of up to 20 days IS available:

  • for people who need to be excluded from workplace/placed in quarantine.
  • if the workplace is closed
  • if you have caring responsibilities or have transport disruptions (without needing to exhaust other forms of leave first).
  • if you are sick and have exhausted your sick leave
  • for some casual employees and locums if required to self-isolate (depends on your employment arrangements)

Paid special leave is NOT available:

  • If an employee is quarantined after they knowingly travelled to a country where the Smart Traveller advice for that country (on the day they travel) is: ‘do not travel’, ‘reconsider your need to travel’ or ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ due to COVID-19, they may work from home but won’t have access to paid special leave.

Paid sick leave IS available:

  • For people who are sick – apply for sick leave as usual before applying for special leave.
  • In the first three months of employment.

Casual employees and locums may be entitled to special leave if they are required to self-isolate due to close contact COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. This will depend on the nature of the member’s engagement; including the length of engagement and whether the casual has regular and systematic shifts.

VMOs will not be entitled to paid special leave.

Q. What about other forms of leave?

During COVID-19 it is important hospitals have adequate capacity to deliver services effectively. This requires a sufficient number of available employees with the necessary skills and expertise to meet arising demands. Local Health Districts and hospitals need to assess their current and reserve workforce capacity.

As part of this it is important that management talk to employees about managing leave differently during COVID-19.

Q. Can I make a new leave request?

Yes.

But hospitals have been asked to suspend business as usual processes for leave approval (annual, long service, leave without pay) and they will establish in their surge plans covering how such new leave requests will be approved over the next six months.

But there is NO leave freeze.

All leave applications will be considered on a case by case basis and there will be personal circumstances considerations (e.g. bereavement, family issues, weddings).

Management will consider the following factors with leave requests:

  • projected workforce supply for COVID-19.
  • high demand periods such as school holidays.
  • winter flu (surge in demand and possibility of increase numbers of staff absent due to personal illness/ family illness).
  • strategies for staff to work outside their usual allocation to support high demand areas.
  • supporting settings where there are existing vacancies.

Q. What about my existing approved leave?

Where leave (annual, long service, leave without pay) has already been approved this should proceed unless there is significant reason to withdraw approval.

If you are asked to cancel existing approved leave and you do not agree with this request then please contact ASMOF at allocation@asmof.org.au.

Q. Can I take TESL and Official Overseas Travel that’s already booked?

For Official Overseas Travel booked and approved prior to 5 March 2020 (including TESL), the following applies:

  1. If the Commonwealth Government’s Smart Traveller advice indicates ‘do not travel’or‘reconsider your need to travel’, or‘exercise a high degree of caution’ prior to departure, travel is to be cancelled.
  2. Otherwise:

  a documented risk assessment should be undertaken to determine whether such overseas travel should continue in light of the developing COVID-19 situation.

  the risk assessment should be undertaken as soon as practicable to do so, in order to minimise impact on the individual staff member/s and maximise potential for refunding/ crediting/ cancellation of bookings.

  Key considerations should include:

  The staff member’s safety while overseas

  Identified requirements of the workforce surge plan in relation to the staff member

  Potential delayed return to Australia and potential quarantine period further delaying return to work once back in Australia

  Any exceptional circumstances

  NSW Health Public Health advice until departure: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/coronavirus.aspx

  Novel Coronavirus travel information provided at https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/news-and-updates/novel-coronavirus-covid-19

Important to note where the status of the destination changes prior to departure and the Government Smart Traveller advice indicates ‘do not travel’ or ‘reconsider your need to travel’ or ‘exercise a high degree of caution’, official overseas travel is to be cancelled and not proceed.

Q.Can I make a new Official Overseas Travel application (including TESL)?

New approvals of official overseas travel (regardless of the COVID-19 status of the overseas destination) are suspended. Alternatives to travel where practicable to do so are to be considered. This will be continually monitored and reviewed.

Q.What about existing and new Official Domestic Travel application (including TESL)?

The NSW Department of Premier and cabinet have now released the following advice (which has now been incorporated into the NSW Health advice):

  • All currently booked and approved international and domestic travel should be re-evaluated in line with the most up to date travel advice available at www.smarttraveller.gov.au.
  • International and domestic travel should be restricted to essential travel only.

Q. What is ASMOF travel insurance advice?

The latest advice from Chubb travel insurance can be found here. Please note that members also need to check on any further Government travel warnings.

 

Q.How will this affect Doctors in Training including training and supervision arrangements?

HETI have provided advice on arrangements for doctors in training which you can read here.

JMO wellbeing should continue to be a focus as many will be feeling vulnerable especially those in their first year.HETI acknowledges that the lack of groups getting together could impact on the JMOs feelings of belonging. HETI supports local consideration of alternate arrangements to ensure JMOs feel supported.

Staff Redeployment and Impact on Term Descriptions and Rosters

If hospitals make temporary changes to PGY1 and 2 term allocations to manage COVID-19 pandemic requirements prior approval from HETI is not required. HETI will rely on the GCTC and the DPET to monitor supervision, workload, wellbeing and access to training.

HETI acknowledges that rosters may need to be changed at short notice, however supervision needs to be maintained. Roster changes do not need prior approval from HETI.

Supervision

Supervision needs to continue as normal. If supervisory staff are absent or occupied with pandemic activities then hospitals need to ensure there are alternative supervisory arrangements in place.

Education and Training

Teaching sessions should continue where possible. Group teaching should be delivered through technology with recorded sessions to be utilised where possible. It is accepted that certain sessions e.g. Grand Rounds may need to be cancelled.

HETI is looking at how we can support the use of technology to enable training.

Education about PPE/donning and doffing for the JMOs if they are working in fever/respiratory clinics is essential.

General Clinical Training (GCTC) and Network Training Committees (NTC) play a critical role in monitoring the impact on JMOs at this time. These meetings should not be cancelled but should be held by teleconference or videoconference.

Staff Redeployment and Impact on General Registration of Interns

Informal advice from MBA/AHPRA indicates that there will be some flexibility where an intern, due to redeployment related to the COVID-19 pandemic, does not meet the mandatory requirements for general registration. HETI is awaiting formal advice which we understand will be available shortly.

Q. I am concerned that my workplace isn’t safe due to COVID-19, what can I do?

It is important that members understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to working in sectors with greater chance of exposure to the virus.

The Commonwealth Department of Health has released guidance to employers and employees in certain industries. This includes resources for health professionals.

Any member who is immunocompromised or has a chronic condition should not be working in a high-risk area. Your employer must manage the risk.

If you believe that you fall into this category you should raise this with management and request that they make reasonable adjustments which removes you from the risk. This could be an alternative position within the hospital, or it could be working from home.

If you believe management has not taken appropriate steps to manage this risk then contact ASMOF at allocation@asmof.org.au.

Q. Are there Work Health and Safety Laws that cover me?

Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) your employer MUST provide a healthy and safe work environment, so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes obligations to ensure that co-workers are not exposed to known cases or contacts.

  • Your employer must monitor, so far as reasonably practicable, working conditions and the health of employees.
  • Your employer has an obligation to provide appropriate training and updated information in respect to potential health and safety risks, such as information regarding preventing the spread of the virus.
  • Employees also have obligations to take reasonable care that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons.
  • Employees have rights to refuse to carry out work if the employee has reasonable concern the work would expose themselves to a serious risk from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard. The employee needs to have a reasonable concern and there needs to be a serious risk. Such risks may include psychosocial risks arising from potential exposure to the virus.
  • Workers and Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) have rights to be informed about precautions to be taken and to challenge preventative health measures.
  • In line with the above obligations, employees should advise their employer of any potential exposure to COVID19 and adhere to the requirement of isolation for a 14-day period, in line with the guidelines set out by the World Health Organisation.
  • Your employer should be encouraging self-reporting of such instances and ensuring that there are not barriers or disincentives to reporting.

Q. What about Discrimination?

Discrimination is currently a topical issue stemming from the community’s fear and concern around COVID19. In the circumstances, discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably or unfairly on the basis of an illness, impairment or disability.

Employees’ rights against discrimination in the workplace are protected at both state and federal levels.

If there has been an occurrence of discrimination, an application to either the Australian Human Rights Commission or the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board can be made to seek a remedy to the discriminatory behaviour. Discrimination law is however, a very complicated area. If you are concerned about such treatment, you should talk to the Union first.

Q. What about Workers Compensation?

COVID19 is a disease which falls within the definition of injury in section 4 of the Workers Compensation Act 1987 (NSW).

Section 4 of the Act specifically provides that an injury includes:

“a disease that is contracted by a worker in the course of employment but only if the employment was the main contributing factor to contracting the disease…”

If an employee is required to be isolated and is suspected of having the virus but hasn’t contracted it, then they are not entitled to workers’ compensation, as they have not sustained an injury.

If, however, an employee contracts COVID19 and can prove it was contracted in the course of employment and employment was the main contributing factor, then the employee would arguably be entitled to workers’ compensation.

Q. Where can I find out more?

As situation changes from day-to-day, employees should familiarise themselves with the following resources and check for their updates:

  Commonwealth Department of Health

  World Health Organisation (WHO) – Daily Reports

  Safe Work NSW

  NSW Public Health Workforce Surge Guidelines

  NSW Health Influenza Pandemic Plan

In addition, ASMOF will continue to provide more information as it arises.

The ACTU has also prepared an advice sheet (here).

As always – you can contact ASMOF calling 9212 6900 or emailing us allocation@asmof.org.au.