OUR BEST ADVICE ON YOUR MOST COMMON – AND UNCOMMON – QUESTIONS FOR TERM 2, 2020
Q. I’m worried that my WorkCover payments may cease as I am 4 months away from the 130-week mark. What should I do?
A. In a positive development for workers with long-term injuries recently, the Victorian government legislated to extend the 130-week entitlement period for eligible cases in response to the pandemic. The entitlement to weekly payments usually ceases after 130 weeks (there are strict and, frankly, confusing thresholds that must be met to retain an entitlement beyond this). The COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020 establishes that a WorkCover insurer must now provide 39 weeks’ notice of proposed 130-week terminations. It was previously 13 weeks. Effectively, eligible claimants will receive an additional 26 weeks of payment on top of the normal 130 weeks.
This change affects claimants who remain unfit for pre-injury duties and hours, and who received notice of a 130-week termination on or after 1 December 2019. At present, this measure extends to termination notices issued up to 1 June 2020, though this time limit may be extended as deemed necessary by the state government.
Q. Working from home has been so stressful. On top of parenting, the workload has been enormous. My doctor says I may have a work-related stress injury as a result. Can I claim this on WorkCover?
A. The simple answer is yes. In saying that, there are a couple of important things to keep in mind:
Your ‘workplace’ is wherever you are working – long before the pandemic, it was well-established in case law and legislation that a worker could have a valid WorkCover claim for an injury sustained outside of their normal place of work. Government and employer directives that we work from home only makes this point clearer.
There must be a sufficient connection between the stress-related injury and your work. To be compensable, work issues need not be the sole cause of the stress injury. As complex beings, most of us experience multiple stressors most of the time, and we all now have a serious additional stress in the form of COVID-19. It is therefore particularly important at this time to identify the significance of the work-related component of any stress condition in order for the condition to be recognised as compensable.
If you are experiencing work-related stress, we urge you to seek the advice and support of both your treating medical practitioner(s) and your employer. For advice about WorkCover and related issues, you can contact the AEU’s Member Support Centre on (03) 9417 2822.
Q. A parent of a student at my school sends daily emails complaining to me about various matters. I have addressed each issue as best I can, but I now feel harassed and intimidated. What should I do?
A. Firstly, you need to look after your own wellbeing. Call the DET Principal Early Intervention Program on 1300 090 924 and speak to them about the issue or talk to your own GP or psychologist. You may then choose to talk to your SEIL and ask for support with the parent. This may mean meeting with the parent to deal with any outstanding issues and develop more suitable communication protocols, reminding the parent of expected behaviours regarding communication. The parent can also be given a copy of the DET Parent Complaints policy so that they understand the correct procedures to follow. Your SEIL may suggest that the DET Complex Matters Team also help you deal with this, depending on the context and complexity of the situation. If you don’t feel that this has assisted you with your issue, call the AEU principal hotline on 1800 719 460.
Q. Due to COVID 19 I have done a mixture of online learning and face-to-face in the past term, as well as doing Excess Teaching Duty Hours. Should my workplan to be updated to record this?
A. Term 3 is a really important time to review your workplan and it should reflect any major changes to the nature of your work. Excess teaching duty hours (ETDH) are not counted towards the annual teaching load and it can be very difficult to make a claim retrospectively for ETDH when they are not recorded somewhere. At some institutes, they are now in the workplan document, but clearly identified as separate to the annual load. You should always insist that ETDH be paid in the pay cycle they occur rather than agreeing to let them bank up to be paid at a later stage.
Q. I am a VCE English teacher with a class of 25 students in Year 12. I also teach a full Year 11 class. I want to do the best I can by my students, but the workload – especially marking and giving feedback – is so overwhelming, I just don’t know how I can get through Term 3.
A. It is certainly a big load, and one that many teachers find very difficult each year, particularly during Term 3. This year, remote learning has added to the stress. The VGSA states very clearly that your workload should be able to fit into a 38-hour work week, pro-rata for part timers. As such, the first thing to do is to raise this via your school’s AEU sub-branch and get the consultative team to discuss workload relief in the form of extra time during the working week to attend to these duties.
It would also be appropriate to raise this as a faculty to ensure best practice regarding feedback and assessment, and a sustainable workload for all staff. This would include looking at the calendar of SACs to make sure you’re able to attend to work associated with these tasks and to spread the workload as much as possible throughout the term.
Q. I have returned to work in Term 3 to find my timetable has changed and I now have three yard duties per week, taking my total to an hour a week. Can this occur?
A. It is the responsibility of the principal to direct your work – and so, yes, this can occur. Clause 22 suggests that there is no maximum yard duty for a teacher, rather that it needs to be equitably distributed across staff and, as such, the consultative committee should have oversight of this. If you have more yard duty than other teachers in the school, then I would suggest speaking to the AEU rep on the committee to raise this.
Further, yard duty needs to fit within the eight hours pro-rata per week of ‘other duties’, which include lunch (30 minutes per day), meetings (two hours per week) and any other non-teaching-related work you may be undertaking, such as extra-curricular activities.
Q. I have one staff member who refuses to do yard duty when it’s wet or windy. Can they do this?
A. Staff cannot refuse to do yard duty due to the weather unless it is a health and safety risk. The school’s health and safety rep would need to be involved if this were the case. Any concern the teacher has regarding yard duty could be discussed in a sub-branch meeting and addressed at consultative committee meetings. Often schools have a wet weather roster if it is expected to rain, but this staff member would still need to maintain their allotted time. The VGSA requires yard duty to be distributed equally among all staff members, as far as is practicable, and all staff are expected to meet their duties as indicated on the roster provided by the school.
Q. I work at a stand-alone TAFE and have been through a complaints process. I am dissatisfied with how the process was undertaken, and I only received a copy of the institute’s complaints policy at the end of the investigation. I can see that a few of the steps were not followed by my employer. Can I appeal for a review through a Dispute Settlement Committee?
A. A Dispute Settlement Committee (DSC) is not the appropriate forum to appeal an outcome or raise concerns about a complaints policy. A DSC only deals with disputes relating to provisions in the industrial agreement or the National Employment Standards. The TAFE Agreement does not have a built-in disciplinary process; each institute has its own. If you believe there has been a procedural deficiency in a complaint process, you can request an internal review. The process is usually outlined in the policy itself, but contact MSC if you are unsure.