Special leave: what you need to know when your family has a crisis…
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 125 No 7, 2 October 2020, page no.16
The maze of information relating to leave support and options can be overwhelming, especially when you are dealing with family emergencies and crises.
This is a snapshot of the need-to-know. All of the leave types below are outlined in Public Service Commission Special Leave Directive (05/17), so regardless of which school they work in, IPS or not, all departmental employees have the same leave options available to them. The department recognises the benefit in supporting employees during personal hardship, and the lens of support and compassion should apply.
Before going any further, it is important to establish what “immediate family” is. The directive defines it as including:
- the employee’s spouse/partner
- a child, ex-nuptial child, step-child, adopted child, ex-foster child of the employee or employees’ spouse/partner
- parent, grandparent, grandchild, sister or brother of the employee and of the employee’s spouse/partner (such as the employee’s mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandparent-in-law, brother-in-law, sister in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law).
The list of family members provided for in this definition is not exhaustive. Agencies have the discretion to grant bereavement leave to employees on the death of family members that are not expressly provided for in this definition. Cultural and personal reasons may be taken into consideration when an agency makes a decision.
The issue of what constitutes “family” most often arises around bereavement leave (two days of paid leave), which is an entitlement and non-discretionary. This means that you are required to inform the school of your absence and provide evidence of the bereavement (often a funeral notice), but you are not seeking permission. It is heartbreaking to hear of people being told incorrectly that they are not eligible for bereavement leave, and alarming to hear that some were advised to just “use your sick leave”. Using sick leave to attend a funeral could be viewed as misuse of that leave and is inappropriate.
Bereavement leave is available to permanent and temporary employees and can be accessed for each bereavement experienced. The leave is to be granted for deaths irrespective of where they occurred. Some members have been incorrectly denied bereavement leave because the death took place overseas.
Bereavement leave now recognises the loss of a baby through miscarriage. If the employee, or the employee’s spouse, is pregnant and the pregnancy ends other than by the birth of a living child, bereavement leave should be granted. Where the pregnancy ends at or after 20 weeks, paid parental leave may also be available.
Under 8.1 of the Special Leave Directive, a principal, as chief officer of the school, has the authority and discretion (meaning it is not an entitlement and must be approved) to approve up to five days of paid special leave, per occasion. Recognising that there will always be circumstances experienced that cannot be foreseen or predicted, there is no definitive list. However, principals and decision makers under the principles of good decision making, need to make consistent decisions and be accountable for them.
Where a member of the employee’s immediate family or household develops an illness or sustains a personal injury that poses a serious threat to their life, they are entitled to compassionate paid leave (2 days non-discretionary special leave) per occasion.
Domestic and family violence is covered by its own directive (02/20) and provides for principals to approve up to 10 days of paid leave to employees who are impacted by family violence. The directive reads:
An employee affected by domestic and family violence will have access to a minimum of 10 days paid leave per year:
- without being required to provide supporting documentation
- without being required to first use other leave types
- which may be taken as consecutive days, single days or a fraction of a day
- for purposes arising from domestic and family violence or supporting a person affected by domestic and family violence (purposes may include but are not limited to attending medical, legal, police or counselling appointments; attending court and other legal proceedings; and organising alternative accommodation, care or education arrangements).