Australia is closely monitoring the outbreak of COVID-19. This is an unfolding situation so Australian Government employers are advised to monitor the most up-to-date information via the websites of the Australian Government Department of Health and the State and Territory health department websites.
- COVID-19 is a significant public health issue, and Australian Government employers should take the lead in effective action to prevent its spread in our community and workplaces. This includes putting in place special, time limited arrangements to practically deal with the emerging public health issues.
- Individuals exposed to COVID-19 through close contact with a person confirmed to have the virus or through recent travel should act to reduce the risk of further spread of the virus. Anyone with symptoms and a reason to believe they are at risk of contracting COVID-19 should seek medical advice. Up to date information on exposure and isolation requirements is provided on the Department of Health website.
- This guidance provides Australian Government employers with information to:
- assist in addressing employee questions about the COVID-19 and what response the employer may take; and
- guide decision making around attendance at work and accessing leave provisions, if employees present with symptoms or indicate they are at risk of having been exposed to COVID-19.
Keeping up to date
- As the situation is evolving, agencies are to regularly review the information contained on the Australian Government Department of Health website.
- The Australian Government Department of Health also provide a latest news page.
- Agencies should also regularly review the information contained in the state and territory health department websites relevant to their operations. The Australian Government Department of Health website contains the relevant links.
- The latest advice from DFAT on travel is available at www.smartraveller.gov.au.
- Further information for Australian Government employees is also available on the COVID-19 page of the APSC website.
For Australian Government employees who contract the coronavirus
- If an employee advises they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 by a medical practitioner, the employee should be given access to paid Personal Leave for personal illness in accordance with the agency’s workplace arrangements. If the employee has insufficient credits to cover the medically advised period, paid Discretionary Leave (or equivalent) should be provided.
- An agency may request reasonable evidence as per the relevant industrial instrument.
If an employee notifies they have been exposed
- Where an employee believes they have been exposed to COVID-19 through recent travel or through close contact with a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, they are to seek and follow medical advice. As a first point of contact, the employee should call the Coronavirus health information hotline on 1800 020 080.
- Where an employee is advised to self-isolate but a positive diagnosis has not been received, agencies should attempt to enable the employee to work from home while they monitor their health. If this is not practical or there is no facility for working remotely, paid Discretionary Leave (or equivalent) for the required isolation period should be provided.
- Agencies need to consider what they will accept as reasonable evidence. It is recommended that a common sense approach be adopted regarding evidence requirements which may include proof of travel, medical advice or a statutory declaration confirming close contact with an individual who has tested positive. It is recommended that employees not be required to obtain a medical certificate for self-isolating unless they become unwell.
For employees in a household affected by COVID-19
- Each circumstance needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
- Where an employee’s household member has been directed to self–isolate but does not require care, unless the employee has also been medically advised to self-isolate or the household member becomes unwell, the employee should continue to work.
- Where an employee has a household member who is positively diagnosed with COVID-19, the employee will be considered a close contact and must isolate per medical advice. During this period the employee may be able to continue working from home. Where working from home is not practical or there is no facility for working remotely, paid Discretionary Leave (or equivalent) for the period required by the relevant health authority should be provided.
- If the employee is subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19, access to paid Personal Leave for personal illness should be provided. If personal leave is exhausted, access to paid Discretionary Leave (however described) should be provided.
- Where an employee is required to provide care or support for a family member due to a medical direction that the family member not attend a facility, paid Carer’s leave should be provided. Where an unexpected emergency requires the employee to care for their family member, paid Carer’s leave should be provided. An example of this may be where a school is closed at short notice, or temporarily due to a child or staff member testing positive to COVID-19. Discretionary leave may be used if paid leave is exhausted. See Fair Work Ombudsman guidance.
- APS employees are essential workers. Where schools are open or arrangements for the children of essential workers are available, employees should make use of these facilities, or work remotely. Employees who choose not to send their children to school, and subsequently make themselves unavailable for work, may utilise their available leave credits. Where credits are exhausted, there is no entitlement to additional paid leave.
- Due to the current extraordinary circumstances of the outbreak and the potential widespread impact, paid arrangements should also be extended to casual employees who are required to isolate due to COVID-19 exposure or who contract the virus. This exceptional measure is in place for the duration of the pandemic until advised by the Australian Government Department of Health.
- This is to minimise any incentive for employees to attend the workplace against medical advice and to minimise exposure to the public.
- Agencies should ensure that paid arrangements to enable absence, such as paid Discretionary Leave (or equivalent), are in place to allow casual employees to self-isolate when required to do so by the relevant health authority. This could include determinations being made under section 24(1) of the Public Service Act 1999, other agency employment legislation or the use of individual flexibility arrangements.
- Australian Government agencies engage casual employees for a range of irregular and intermittent tasks. The basis on which casual employees are employed and rostered varies both between and within agencies. In determining the amount of payment, where possible agencies should consider the agreed or accepted shifts in the period undertaken by the casual employee. This may include averaging work done over the settlement period immediately before the employee was required to self-isolate, or considering the upcoming work schedule and any plans to engage the employee over that period.
- Agencies should discuss options with their payroll providers early to ensure there is an ability to put arrangements in place quickly when required.
- As with other employees, where a casual employee is in required self-isolation but not unwell, work from home arrangements should be considered where possible.
Labour hire and Contractors
- Labour hire workers are not Australian Government employees, and are generally the employee of labour hire companies. Leave and pay conditions remain a matter for the labour hire company. Agencies should, through the appropriate contract managers, consult with labour hire providers about their arrangements, and confirm that the provider has systems in place to ensure the potential for COVID-19 affected employees to present at workplaces is minimised. Labour hire providers are required to comply with Commonwealth and agency policies, guidelines and directions.
- Agencies should ensure, and require labour hire providers to ensure, that labour hire workers and contractors who are advised not to be present at the workplace are absent for the advised period.
- Where relevant, agencies should engage with labour hire providers on arrangements to fulfil their contracts remotely or from home. Labour hire providers must ensure their staff continue to comply with an applicable security or other Commonwealth requirements.
- On 18 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced Australians should not travel abroad.
- Australian Public Service employees who choose to undertake private overseas travel from 18 March 2020 are to use their own accrued annual or long service leave for the purposes of the 14 days self-isolation on return to Australia. If accrued annual or long service leave is not available employees will need to access leave without pay. If the employee is unwell personal leave may be accessed with appropriate medical evidence. Work from home arrangements may be negotiated with supervisor agreement assuming the employee is otherwise well.
- Where Australian Public Service employees choose to undertake personal travel to areas with known self-isolation requirements, the additional time will be covered by the employee’s own leave credits consistent with paragraph 30.
- Agencies should continue to review their policies and procedures in light of emerging issues.
- Maintaining agency operations and continuing to serve the community will remain important as we navigate these uncertain times. It will be critical for employees able to attend work to continue to deliver services to the public. Employees are expected to attend work or notify their employers as to reasons for their absence.
- Agencies should engage with employees who have particular health concerns which may make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. On a case by case basis, considerations such as working from home or transfer to a non-public facing job should be considered.
- This circular will be reviewed and updated on a regular basis as new information arises.
- Agencies seeking further information should contact covid19 [at] apsc.gov.au.