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  1. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a significant shift in the way the Australian Public Service (APS) has operated to continue to deliver outcomes and critical services to the Australian public.
  2. The APS needs to continue to dedicate its capabilities to the most critical services to ensure that the Australians who need help the most are receiving it.
  3. The following advice applies to all Commonwealth agencies and their employees including ongoing, non‑ongoing and casual employees. The focus of agencies and employees should be on the continued delivery of critical functions to the Australian public, as well as ensuring workplaces are safe for all employees.
  4. The APS Commissioner established the APS Workforce Management Taskforce to manage the mobility of the APS workforce across all APS departments and agencies.
  5. This advice clarifies agencies’ responsibilities in regards to temporary mobility arrangements for the continued response to COVID-19.
  6. This Circular supersedes the mobility advice in Circular 2020/3: COVID-19 – Remote working and evolving work arrangements in response to the gradual relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Review of agency functions

  1. Agencies have been asked to undertake reviews of critical functions based on current and emerging needs in response to COVID-19 and provide this advice to the APS Commissioner through the APS Workforce Management Taskforce.
  2. The reviews are in line with business continuity plans and include the number of staff required to deliver critical functions and meet business needs.
  3. Agencies are required to continue to monitor and evaluate their requirements on a regular basis as the COVID-19 response evolves.

What work options exist for employees?

  1. Firstly, can the employee perform their regular or normal work? Depending on the agency transition plan this may be within the workplace or working from home. If the agency is able to determine there are no limitations on an employee performing their regular work, it should be facilitated.
  2. Secondly, can the employee perform other tasks or work within the agency or another agency? Can the employee be reassigned a different role within the agency, or undertake a temporary mobility opportunity in another agency, state and territory agency, or community organisation? If so, the employee should be made available for temporary movement.
  3. Thirdly, is the employee currently limited in their ability to perform work? If an employee is awaiting alternative work or temporary mobility opportunities, agencies should consider what learning and development opportunities are available. The focus should be on relevant skills to maximise mobility opportunities. This could include online courses, qualifications that can be completed over the short term or other professional development.
  4. Employees who are unable to perform their regular work and are available for temporary mobility opportunities when they arise are to be placed on paid stand-by while they undertake approved learning and development or other relevant skill building activity.1
  5. Agencies will consider their transition plans and how the employee’s role and personal situations may be impacted by the lifting of restrictions. Agencies will discuss possibilities to best utilise employee skills and maintain daily contact to maintain engagement and reassess available work.
  6. The above steps are expected to be dynamic and employees may shift through the different steps at different times as restrictions are lifted or reinforced, systems come online, and work demand and personal situations change.
  7. Where an employee chooses not to be available for work or temporary mobility opportunities, or declines work or a temporary mobility opportunity, they are not eligible for paid stand-by and will need to access an approved leave type. The appropriate leave type to be accessed will be dependent on the agency workplace arrangement and the personal situation of the employee. Agencies should refer to Circular 2020/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements for further guidance.
  8. Where an employee does not engage with the agency, undertake assigned work or refuses reasonable work, then an agency’s normal ‘failure to attend work procedures’ apply.

Application to casual employees

  1. Casual employees should undertake their regular assigned duties. Where an agency cannot facilitate this, and where it is appropriate, casual employees may choose to be available for reassignment of duties in their agency or a temporary mobility opportunity, or to undertake approved learning and development or other relevant skill building activities.
  2. Where a casual employee chooses not to be available for work, they will not be paid.
  3. Casual employees are not eligible for paid stand-by.
  4. Paid arrangements for casual employees are not to be extended beyond those outlined in Circular 2020/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements.


Business continuity and transition plans

  1. Agencies must implement their business continuity and transition plans, and determine how they will transition to usual workplaces and what they will do to continue to deliver essential services to the Australian public.
  2. Agencies should communicate actions from business continuity and transition plans to employees and maintain regular discussions regarding the transition back to the usual workplaces, as well as what work is available. This may include the need to transition some employees to usual workplaces based on their critical functions to ensure continuity.
  3. Agencies must continue to identify employees available for temporary mobility opportunities to the APS Workforce Management Taskforce.
  4. More information on transition plans is at Circular 2020/5: Preparing for a COVID-safe transition for APS workplaces.

Reasonable evidence

  1. It may be reasonable for an agency to ask for evidence from the employee as to why they are not available for work. This may not be appropriate or applicable in all circumstances.

APS Values and Code of Conduct

  1. Employees are reminded that APS Values and Code of Conduct apply at all times. Employees must continue to be impartial, committed to service, accountable, respectful and ethical, irrespective of where or how work is being performed. This includes using Commonwealth resources appropriately, and ensuring that they do not compromise the public’s confidence in their ability, or the ability of their agency, to act impartially.

Work, Health and Safety

  1. Agencies should consider their work, health and safety obligations.

[1] For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a ‘restriction’ or ‘on call’ scenario as envisaged in some enterprise agreements.

Last reviewed: 
8 May 2020