Circular 2020/3: COVID-19 – Remote working and evolving work arrangements
- Commonwealth agencies will need to assess situations where employees are unable to continue to serve the Australian public in their usual way in response to COVID-19. The focus of agencies and employees should be on delivering critical functions to Australian public.
- The Government considers the Australian Public Service to be an essential service which needs to keep working in order to keep Australians safe, and ensure that services are delivered to the Australian people.
- The following advice applies to all APS employees including ongoing, non-ongoing and casual employees.
- It does not cover situations where an employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19, is caring for somebody who has, and/or is required to self-isolate by a relevant health authority. Leave arrangements in these circumstances is outlined in Circular 2020/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements.
- This advice does not apply where employees choose to take voluntary actions which make them unavailable for work, including withdrawing children from schools where they remain open. Employees in such circumstances must access their existing leave entitlements in accordance with their agency workplace arrangements.
Working from home where practicable
- Agency heads should facilitate Australian Government employees working from home where it is practicable to do so.
- The ability for employees to work from home will depend on the types of advice and work they need to undertake. For operational reasons some employees will need to come to work.
- Australian Government agency heads need to ensure operational requirements are met and services continue to be delivered.
- Agency heads are responsible for making working from home decisions in their agencies. Relevant factors to be considered in decision making include the ability to meet operational requirements, as well as security, IT and remote working capacity.
- Agencies should consider how work could be redesigned and flexibility provided to suit working from home as necessary – for instance, by facilitating different working hours and providing other reasonable flexibilities. Agencies should be mindful of the provisions of their enterprise agreement or other industrial instruments.
- Agencies should put in place arrangements to support employees that are working from home. These may include regular check in arrangements, teleconferences, and other mechanisms to maintain regular communication between employees and their managers.
- If working from home is not possible due to operational requirements, agencies must ensure staff working in office environments are adhering to social distancing principles, and following the latest health and hygiene advice from the Department of Health, and Chief Medical Officers.
What work options exist for employees?
- Firstly, can the employee perform their regular or normal work? In these situations, if operational requirements permit, can the employee perform their usual work from home?
- If the agency is able to determine there are no limitations on an employee performing their regular work from home, it should be facilitated.
- 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 agencies, or community organisation? If so, the employee should be made available for temporary movement and the receiving agency head should facilitate work from home where practicable.
- 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.
- 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.
- Agencies will discuss possibilities to best utilise employee skills during this period and maintain daily contact to maintain engagement and reassess available work.
- The above steps are expected to be dynamic and employees may shift through the different steps at different times as systems come online, and work demand and personal situations change.
- Where an employee chooses not to be available for work or temporary mobility opportunity, 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.
- 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
- Casual employees should undertake their regular assigned duties. Where an agency cannot facilitate this, casual employees may choose to be available for reassignment of duties in their agency or a temporary mobility opportunity.
- Where a casual employee chooses not to be available for work, they will not be paid.
- Casual employees are not eligible for paid stand-by.
- Paid arrangements for casual employees are not to be extended beyond those outlined in Circular 2020/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements.
- Agencies must implement their business continuity plans, and determine in conjunction with employees what they can do to continue to deliver essential services to the Australian public.
- Agencies should communicate actions from business continuity plans to employees and maintain regular discussions to review what work is available. This includes the need to move employees to critical functions to ensure continuity as a first step.
- Agencies must then identify employees available for temporary mobility opportunities to the APS Workforce Management Taskforce.
- Employees must be prepared to assist in whatever way is required and are not to be stood down.
- Where possible and appropriate, technology should not limit an employee’s ability to perform work where it is available. Agencies should review their existing remote working capabilities, IT resources and policies to ensure employees have every opportunity to continue to perform meaningful work.
- This could include providing internet capabilities to employees without access to the internet or the capability to work from home using a laptop or other device.
- 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
- Employees are reminded that APS Values and Code of Conduct apply at all times. You 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 you do not compromise the public’s confidence in your ability, or the ability of your agency, to act impartially.
Work, Health and Safety
- Agencies should consider their work, health and safety obligations.
 For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a ‘restriction’ or ‘on call’ scenario as envisaged in some enterprise agreements.