Understanding your legal rights : a basic guide

November 2016 | Download as PDF

Legal assistance

Financial members of the QTU have access to support, advocacy and assistance that is necessary if something goes wrong during their employment with DET, examples of which could be MUP processes, code of conduct investigations or teacher transfer appeals, just to name a few.

QTU members are also entitled to be granted free assistance for a range of work-related matters. Examples include: discipline cases, student protection complaints, abusive parents, defamation and WorkCover claims..


More information for QTU members : QTU Legal Brochure - Legal Assistance : It's Your Protection

Disciplinary rights

An employer must have proper disciplinary policies and procedures in place which allow proper investigation of any disciplinary actions regarding work related incidents.


More information for QTU members :

Disciplinary appeals

Disciplinary action that may be taken by the Department of Education and Training can range from a reprimand or warning to the teacher not to repeat the behaviour to a reduction in the officer’s pay (demotion) or a recommendation that the teacher’s employment be terminated or that they be transferred to another school.

A teacher who receives a letter asking them to “show cause” as to why they should not be disciplined, should immediately contact the Union for advice. A member needs to send in a copy of the discipline letter and a written request for legal assistance.


More information for QTU members :

Professional conduct

Departmental employees are required to acknowledge that they understand their obligations under the Queensland Government Code of Conduct and the department’s Standard of Practice, and agree to align their professional conduct to these obligations.

Right to Information Act

The Right to Information Act 2009 (Qld) (“the act”) replaces the Freedom of Information Act 1992 (Qld). The preamble to the act refers to the importance in a free and democratic society of “open discussion of public affairs” and a number of other matters, including the notion that “information in the government’s possession or under the government’s control is a public resource”.


More information for QTU members : QTU Legal Brochure -  Right to Information Act (Queensland)  

Electronic media

As a teacher, it is important to ensure that you do not cross professional boundaries through contact with a student which is improper, or open to being interpreted as improper. It is important that you keep this in mind when using any form of electronic social network.

  • You must ensure that you do not communicate with students from a private or personal email address or mobile phone.
  • Communication with students via departmental email should be for official purposes only.
  • You must not use social networks to contact or access present students enrolled in any school or institute.
  • If you use internet social networks in your personal time, you must ensure that the content is appropriate and private, and that you restrict access to specific people who are not students.

More information for QTU members : QTU Legal Brochure - Electronic media and professional conduct

Intellectual property

Teaching materials prepared by a teacher in the course of their work for the Department of Education and Training (“the department”) belong to the department.

While you have the right to conduct remunerative activities away from your employment, involvement in such activities almost inevitably raises important issues for consideration. Advice should be sought before, not after, the event.

The department engages teachers not just to present lessons, but also to prepare material based on the curriculum as the basis of these lessons. Teachers are not free to use those materials outside of their employment with the department.


More information for QTU members : QTU Legal Brochure -  Intellectual Property Created by Teachers  

Police matters

If teachers are accused of having broken the law, whether in their employment or outside it, it can result in a charge or a conviction and put at risk not only the teachers' reputation, liberty and property, but their employment and teacher registration.

Whether you are innocent or guilty, what you say to other people and to police officers when the allegations are raised may have serious effects on the outcome of the proceedings against you.

Because of the serious consequences which criminal charges can have for a teacher's employment, the Union frequently gives initial legal advice, even in relation to charges which do not directly relate to the employment. Whether further legal aid is given thereafter is a matter for careful assessment by the appropriate bodies or Officers of the Union.


More information for QTU members : QTU Legal Brochure -   Teachers and the law : Police matters  

Accidents

In the event of an accident, you may be required to provide a statement, either by way of a report in the school-based incident report on OneSchool, or in response to a request from the Department of Education and Training.

If you believe you could be held liable for the accident in any way, no statement should be provided without first contacting the Union. In such cases, the Union will provide advice on the content of the proposed statement, to ensure your rights are protected. This procedure will not cause undue delay in the provision of a statement, and you should simply advise that you are seeking legal advice before providing a statement. If no statement is requested, it is advisable to keep a record of the circumstances of the accident for your own purposes, as an action for damages may be commenced some years after the event


More information for QTU members : QTU Legal Brochure -   Teachers and the law : accidents

Departmental records

Teachers are entitled to access documents held about them by the Department of Education and Training, particularly documents which are detrimental to their interests.

Teachers can ring Regional Ooffice and arrange a time to review documents.

Teachers' employment is mainly regulated by the Public Service Act 2008 (Qld) (“the act”) and the Public Service Regulation 2008 (Qld) (“the regulation)” made under that act.


More information for QTU members : QTU Legal Brochure -  Teachers' rights in relation to departmental records about them

Freedom of association

Freedom of association is the right of workers, including Department of Education and Training and TAFE teachers and administrators, to become and remain a member of their union and engage in legitimate union activity, without fear of discrimination.

Freedom of association is a fundamental human right recognised by the United Nations (International Labour Organisation) in C087 – Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No.87).

Australia is a signatory to this convention.   It is a right that has existed since the last century which cannot be taken away by the state government, despite its removal of many other rights of workers and their unions

Anti-discrimination complaints

The intention of the Anti-Discrimination Act is to promote equality of opportunity for everyone by protecting them from unfair discrimination in certain areas of activity and from sexual harassment and certain associated objectionable conduct.

Discrimination is only unlawful on the following grounds:

  • sex 
  • relationship status 
  • pregnancy 
  • parental status 
  • breastfeeding 
  • age 
  • race 
  • impairment 
  • religious belief or activity 
  • political belief or activity 
  • trade union activity 
  • lawful sexual activity 
  • gender identity 
  • sexuality 
  • family responsibilities 
  • association with, or relation to, a person identified on the basis of any of the above attributes. 

Defamation of teachers by parents and others

In Queensland, defamation is the publication of something that tends to lower a person’s reputation in the estimation of others by making them think less of that person, usually by bringing the person into hatred, contempt or ridicule. It is through the eyes of “ordinary, right-thinking” members of society that the defamatory nature of the publication is to be determined.

The published material must be such that reasonable people with knowledge of the circumstances would regard the publication as defamatory.  Clearly there are numerous statements made every day which are defamatory in this sense. Most of those, however, would not result in a successful defamation action if the person referred to were to sue.  

In a defamation action, a person seeking a remedy such as damages must prove that they have been defamed by way of spoken or written words, pictures, gestures, signs or other visible, non-verbal representations. That is, it must be shown that the defendant has published statements to a third person bearing defamatory imputations about an identified or identifiable plaintiff


More information for members : QTU legal Brochure, Defamation of teachers by parents and others

Alleged employee misconduct

When a complaint is received and assessed to be minor in nature, the Ethical Standards Unit can appoint the region, workplace or institution to investigate it, or provide managerial guidance to correct or resolve the issue. If the evidence supports the complaint, the maximum penalty is a caution.

Below are some examples that the department believes to be minor breaches of the code of conduct:

  • inappropriate or belligerent language directed at a colleague or member of the workplace community 
  • reporting unfit for duty through the affect of alcohol, drugs or medication. 

When a complaint is received that is considered to be a non-minor breach of the code of conduct, the Ethical Standards Unit may either investigate it itself or oversee an investigation by regional staff.

If the evidence supports the complaint, the Department of Education and Training’s Workforce Review Unit will consider the findings of the report, with the possibility of starting a show cause process. If asked to show cause, you will have 14 days to respond to the allegations and explain why you should not be disciplined.


 Information for members  


 

Basic Guides provide QTU members with information on their entitlements and can be used by school administration to help in timetabling

Basic Guides are issued for general guidance only and do not constitute professional advice. The issues with which they deal are complex and the Basic Guide necessarily deals only with general principles. No reader should rely on the Basic Guides for the purpose of making a decision as to action but should seek the appropriate advice from the Union on the particular circumstances of that reader. The Union accepts no responsibility for the consequences should any person act in reliance on these Basic Guides without obtaining the appropriate advice from the Union.


More information

The QTU produces a number of documents to help members understand their working conditions and entitlements

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