Important changes to leave during COVID-19 situation
Following discussions between unions and the NSW Ministry of Health, arrangements for leave requests and approvals have changed in response to COVID-19. NSW Health employees will now have access to 20 days of paid special leave (for COVID-19).
New ‘Special Paid Leave Provisions for Employees’
A total of 20 days special paid leave will now apply, reflecting the updated Ministry of Health Workforce Advice.
The 20 days paid special leave (for COVID-19) will be accessible prior to a staff member being required to access their own accrued leave. This can be used for self-isolation from the workplace; caring for sick family members; caring for children who are unable to attend schools or child care facilities (due to closure for example); and unable to attend work if transport is disrupted. If a staff member exhausts their 20 days of paid special leave, they can then request to access other leave entitlements in accordance with normal processes.
This is a significant new entitlement and reflects representations made by public sector unions and Unions NSW to the NSW Government, with a cornerstone of these arguments being paid special leave should be accessible prior to using accrued leave.
Casual employees are generally not entitled to paid special leave. If a casual is required to self-isolate due to close contact COVID-19 exposure in the workplace, each situation will be considered on a case by case basis; however special paid leave may be appropriate for shifts which are already rostered up to 20 days. The nature of a casual employee’s engagement will be considered; including the length of the casual engagement and whether the casual has regular and systematic shifts.
Isolation from the workplace following overseas travel
The parameters for providing or not providing paid special leave for isolation from the workplace following overseas (private) travel remains as advised (see pg. 2-3 of attachment).
The Ministry of Health has amended its workforce advice, including processes directed toward managing workforce demand. Advice from the Ministry is as follows:
New Leave Requests and Approvals
As the COVID-19 situation progresses; Health Agencies should now suspend business as usual processes for leave approval (annual, long service, leave without pay) and establish in their surge plans how such new leave requests will be approved over the next six months.
Key points for consideration include:
- exceptional personal circumstances (e.g. bereavement, family, weddings)
- 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
Existing Approved Leave
Where leave (annual, long service, leave without pay) has already been approved in most instances this should proceed unless there is significant reason to withdraw approval. Health Agencies should anticipate that in some cases, staff may seek to cancel their existing approved leave due to COVID-19.
Accordingly, whilst business as usual leave approvals are to be suspended, new leave applications will be considered against the needs of any workforce surge arrangements.
The Association will continue making representations on behalf of members on a case by case basis, dependent on the individual circumstances involved. The Ministry’s approach is consistent with possible options and actions as set out in relevant policy directives for managing pandemics: