Circular 2020/6: Temporary mobility arrangements as part of the continued response to COVID-19
- The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a significant shift in the way the Australian Public Service (APS) operates to ensure the delivery of outcomes and critical services to the Australian public.
- In response to emerging variants and fluctuating outbreaks, Commonwealth agencies will need to assess situations where employees are unable to continue to serve the Australian public in their usual way.
- The focus of agencies and employees should be on continuing to deliver essential services and perform critical functions
- In principle, agency heads should seek to return employees to their usual place of work as soon as it is safe to do so. Where circumstances require it, due to localised outbreaks, many APS employees will be required to work remotely or from home, where possible. This Circular is intended to apply in such circumstances.
- This circular does not cover requirements and arrangements for employees and others who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, are caring for somebody who has, and/or are required to self-isolate by a relevant health authority. Leave arrangements in these circumstances is outlined in Circular 2022/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements.
Working from home in response to localised outbreaks
- Agency heads should facilitate Australian Government employees to work from home where circumstances require it, and it is practicable to do so. Agency heads are responsible for making working from home decisions in their agencies.
- As outlined in Circular 2022/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements, agencies should facilitate employees to continue to perform work where they are self-isolating because they are a ‘close contact’ or diagnosed with COVID-19, but also asymptomatic and not unwell. For example, where an employee’s regular duties are customer facing, they may be able to perform other non-customer facing duties while working from home.
- The ability for employees to work from home will depend on the type of work they need to undertake. Agency heads need to ensure operational requirements are met and services continue to be delivered. Relevant factors to be considered include the ability to meet operational requirements, as well as security, IT and remote working capacity. The APS Values and Code of Conduct apply at all times to APS employees.
- Agencies may also consider how work could be redesigned to suit working from home as necessary. This includes 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 who are working from home. These may include regular check-in arrangements, teleconferences and other mechanisms to maintain regular communication between employees and their managers.
- For operational reasons some employees will need to attend the workplace. If working from home is not possible due to operational requirements, agencies must consider their work health and safety obligations with regards to staff working in the office. This includes following the latest health and hygiene advice from the Commonwealth Department of Health, Comcare and Safe Work Australia, Chief Medical Officers and state and territory governments.
Alternative working arrangements
- Where an employee is currently limited in their ability to perform their regular or normal work, managers should consider temporary alternative work or temporary mobility opportunities.
- While awaiting alternative work or temporary mobility opportunities, agencies should consider requiring the employee to undertake learning and development opportunities. The focus should be on relevant skills to maximise mobility opportunities and could include online courses and qualifications that can be completed over the short term or other professional development.
- Agencies should discuss with employees possibilities to best utilise the employee’s skills during this period and maintain daily contact to maintain engagement and reassess available work.
- Where an employee chooses not to be available for work or temporary mobility opportunities, or declines work or a temporary mobility opportunity, they 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 2022/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements for further guidance.
- Where an employee does not engage with the agency, undertake assigned work, refuses reasonable alternative work or to provide reasonable evidence as to why they are not available, 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.
- Paid arrangements for casual employees are not to be extended beyond those outlined in Circular 2022/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements.