Circular 2022/11: COVID-19 leave arrangements
- The purpose of this circular is to guide agency decision-making around attendance at work, accessibility of leave conditions and other flexible working arrangements to support APS employees in the management of COVID-19 while delivering essential services to the community. From 14 October 2022, this circular updates and replaces Circular 2022/1.
- COVID-19 is a significant public health issue and Australian Government employers should take the lead in effective action to minimise transmission in our community and workplaces. This remains important as we move beyond the emergency phase of the pandemic to treating COVID-19 as an endemic health risk.
- APS employers and employees should act to reduce the risk of further spread of COVID-19 and must comply with the public health requirements as set out in public health advice issued by the Australian Government and state and territory governments.
Keeping up to date
- As the situation evolves, agencies should regularly review the information contained on the Australian Government Department of Health website, including its latest news page.
- Agencies should also regularly review the information contained on state and territory health department websites relevant to their operations. The Australian Government Department of Health website contains links to state and territory health department news and advice.
- The latest international travel advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is available at www.smartraveller.gov.au.
- From 14 October 2022, mandatory isolation requirements for COVID-19 will end. It is important that Commonwealth agencies respond appropriately to changing circumstances, whilst also ensuring the safety of all employees and members of the public engaging with Commonwealth employees. Agencies should ensure the availability of flexible working arrangements for employees exposed to COVID-19, and other contagious diseases, wherever possible.
Employee exposure to COVID-19
- Where an employee believes they have been exposed to COVID-19 through close or other contact with a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the National Coronavirus Helpline is available to assist on 1800 020 080 for advice about exposure, testing and isolation requirements in their state or territory.
- In general, employees should get tested, seek medical help if unwell and follow relevant public health advice. Access to personal leave or other flexible working arrangements applies to time required to fulfil testing requirements or seek medical advice, as consistent with an employee’s ordinary personal leave conditions.
- Employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 in accordance with local health directions, are symptomatic, and unable to perform work should be given access to paid personal leave for personal illness in accordance with the agency’s workplace arrangements.
- Agencies are no longer required to provide additional discretionary leave for employees who are unwell with COVID-19.
- Where appropriate, agencies are able to provide employees with additional paid or unpaid discretionary leave in accordance with the miscellaneous leave (or equivalent) provisions in an agency’s workplace arrangements. Agencies are responsible for determining the circumstances under which additional discretionary leave will be provided.
- Where an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 but remains well, work from home arrangements should be supported where appropriate.
Employees exposed to COVID-19
- Employees may choose to self-isolate where the employee has a household member who is positively diagnosed with COVID-19, or has otherwise been exposed to the virus.
- Where an employee chooses to isolate, if the employee is well and a household member does not require care, they should continue working from home. Where working from home is not practical or there is no facility for working remotely, the employee is able to use existing leave credits in accordance with their agency workplace arrangements.
- If the employee is subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19, paragraph 10 applies.
- Where an employee is required to provide care or support for a family or household member who is unwell with COVID-19 or is unable to attend care due to a COVID-19 diagnosis, paid carer’s leave should be provided. Agencies are no longer required to provide paid discretionary leave in these circumstances, however each circumstance should be assessed on a case-by-case basis in accordance with applicable agency workplace arrangements and agency policies. Agencies should be aware that the Fair Work Act 2009 provides 2 days unpaid carer’s leave per occasion to casual employees.
- Employees who choose not to send their children to school, and subsequently make themselves unavailable for work, may utilise their available leave credits (e.g. annual or long service leave or purchased leave). Where credits are exhausted, paid discretionary leave is not appropriate.
- 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.
- As with other employees, where a casual employee is required to self-isolate but is not unwell, work from home arrangements should be considered where possible.
- Casual employees who are infected with or exposed to COVID-19 are able to access leave arrangements otherwise provided by an agency’s enterprise agreement or the Fair Work Act 2009.
Labour hire and contractors
- Labour hire workers are not Australian Government employees, and are generally the employee of labour hire companies.
- Here, 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.
- 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 applicable security or other Commonwealth requirements.
- When employees undertake work-related travel, agencies should take the opportunity to remind them to be aware of, and abide by, any public health orders in place in the jurisdiction they are visiting. For example, this may include remaining restrictions in place for hospitals or other high risk settings.
- Agencies considering sending Commonwealth officials on official travel overseas should refer to APSC ‘Circular 2021/05: COVID-19 Vaccinations for Commonwealth officials travelling overseas’.
- Where an employee is advised to self-isolate because of recent work-related travel 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 it is not practical or there is no facility for working remotely, paragraph 12 applies.
- Employees are responsible for their decisions related to personal travel. Where employees return a positive COVID-19 test or have been exposed to COVID-19 as a result of personal travel, paragraphs 8-18 apply.
- For employees seeking personal/carer’s leave because of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, evidence requirements are in line with the relevant enterprise agreement or industrial instrument that applies to them.
- Additional discretionary leave provided due to COVID-19 should be provided in line with the agency’s miscellaneous leave (or equivalent) provisions.
- Agencies should continue to review their policies and procedures in light of emerging issues. Agencies are able to set in place policies about office attendance, including in light of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
- Maintaining agency operations and continuing to serve the community will remain important as we continue to navigate the impacts of COVID-19. Where an employee would normally be expected to attend a usual place of work such as an office, and they have a COVID-19 related reason for not attending this workplace, they are expected to notify their employer of the reasons for this. Where appropriate to the circumstances, employees and employers should discuss alternative arrangements to ensure continuation of service delivery to the public.
- 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.
- Agencies seeking further information should contact email@example.com.
Interaction with other circulars
- This Circular supersedes Circular 2022/1: COVID-19 Leave Arrangements.
- This Circular should be read in conjunction with Circular 2022/07: Managing the impacts of COVID-19 on Commonwealth agencies.