Sherryl Saunders is an industrial officer for IEUA-QNT and Lisa James is an organiser for the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch. They answer your industrial and legal questions as they relate to state laws and regulations.
Your questions answered
I work as an assistant in a kindergarten. During a recent staff meeting, we were reminded that we all have mandatory reporting obligations if we suspect that a child at the centre is being abused. I want to make sure I do the right thing, so can you explain what my obligations are?
As of 1 July 2017, all early childhood education and care professionals have an obligation under the Child Protection Act 1999 (QLD) to report suspected physical or sexual abuse of a child. This obligation extends to all educators, not just teachers. The obligation is to report a reasonable suspicion that a child has suffered, is suffering, or is at unacceptable risk of suffering, significant harm caused by physical or sexual abuse, in circumstances where the child may not have a parent who is able and willing to protect the child. The report is to be provided in writing to the Department of Child Safety.
Although the reporting requirement under the Child Protection Act is technically only enlivened when the child may not have a parent who is able and willing to protect him/her, you should note from the word ‘may’ that you do not need to be absolutely certain that this is the case. It would be better to err on the side of caution, if there is any doubt about a parent’s ability and/or willingness to protect a child at risk of harm.
Under National Law and Regulations, an approved provider also has an obligation to report to the regulatory authority any incident or allegation of physical and/or sexual abuse occurring at a service. In Queensland, the regulatory authority is the Office of Early Childhood and Care. Employees of a service would therefore have a responsibility to report any suspicions of physical and/or sexual abuse at the service to their supervisor.
I just handed in a medical certificate and was told that ‘unfit for work’ is not enough information and the director wants the doctor to write what I was sick with. Can the director refuse my medical certificate and insist on knowing about my health issues?
Employers do not have the right to access confidential medical information of employees without the consent of the employee. Some medical conditions pose absolutely no threat to the safety of children and there is no need to disclose these. However, because the service needs to ensure the safety of the children at the centre, your employer is entitled to request a medical certificate stating that you are fit for work, before you are allowed to return after taking personal leave. This ensures medical records remain confidential without placing any of the children enrolled at the centre at risk of a communicable disease. It is also possible to ask that your doctor writes the general nature of an illness on a certificate with your agreement, without listing a particular diagnosis.
If a medical certificate or statutory declaration or other evidence that would satisfy a reasonable person was refused by an employer, the IEU would be willing to address this issue with the employer directly on behalf of our member.