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How is the APS returning to usual workplaces?

The Australian Government and state and territory governments are gradually relaxing COVID-19 restrictions, in line with the Roadmap to a COVID-safe Australia agreed by National Cabinet.

As the number of COVID-19 cases stabilises and remains low in most communities, agencies are making arrangements to facilitate employees returning to their usual workplaces, where it is safe to do so.

A single approach for the whole of the APS is not practicable, given the diversity of working environments.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has published Circular 2020/9: Returning to Usual Workplaces for agencies about employees returning to their usual workplaces.

Should I be working from my usual workplace?

Each agency will communicate directly with their employees. Specific decisions affecting each agency are the responsibility of agency heads.

As per Circular 2020/9: Returning to Usual Workplaces published by the APSC, where there is limited or no community transmission of COVID-19, employees should return to their usual workplaces, where it is safe to do so. Agencies will need to assess their workplaces to ensure they are COVID-safe and can accommodate the return of employees. This may include needing to modify workplace attendance arrangements to maintain physical distancing or where public transport risk mitigation may affect employees travel.  

The returning of employees to usual workplaces must be in line with government policy and public health advice issued by the Australian Government and State and Territory governments. This includes physical distancing requirements and the National COVID-19 Safe Workplaces Principles. Safe Work Australia has specific information available on physical distancing within workplace facilities and lifts.

If I am at higher risk, do I need to return to my usual workplace?

The latest public health advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee states even those at higher risk of more severe illness, may return to work and other settings with appropriate precautions in place.

It is important to speak with your supervisor if you are at higher risk of more severe illness prior to returning to the workplace. APS agency heads will consider the individual circumstances and the epidemiological environment to ensure the health and safety of their employees. This will include undertaking a risk assessment and where necessary putting appropriate controls put in place prior to the employee returning to their usual workplace.

Can I still work flexibly?

The use of flexible work arrangements in the APS pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic. While there is no longer a COVID-related reason for employees to be working from home full time, agencies are still able to agree to flexible work arrangements that meet their needs and those of employees, as per usual practice.

What if there is an outbreak?

As outlined in the Circular 2020/9: Returning to Usual Workplaces advice, agencies should have a formal plan in place to respond to any future localised outbreaks.

Where there is a localised outbreak, agency heads should facilitate employees in the location to work from home where practical to do so.

If my child’s school closes because of an outbreak, what leave would I need to take to look after them?

This will be depend on your agency, their workplace arrangements and supporting policies. Initially, you should speak to your supervisor to see whether you can work flexibly while providing care for your children. Circular 2020/9: Returning to Usual Workplaces advises agencies that where there is a localised outbreak, agency heads should facilitate employees in the location of the outbreak working from home, where it is appropriate and practicable to do so.

Agencies should use the maximum flexibility provided by their workplace arrangements, while ensuring that operational requirements are met and services continue to be delivered.

If you are not available for work, your agency will need to consider the appropriate leave type on a case-by-case basis. Speak to your supervisor about the most appropriate leave type for your situation. Circular 2020/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements, provides guidance on the appropriate leave where a facility (such as a school) is closed at short notice.

I am feeling anxious about returning to the workplace what should I do?

There are a number of support systems available to you, including your supervisor, colleagues, HR team and Employee Assistance Program (EAP). It is important to raise any concerns you have immediately with your supervisor or HR team.

Some practical tips for looking after your mental health during COVID-19 are available on the Commission’s website

Leave

If I am required to self-isolate what kind of leave do I take?

If you are unwell personal leave would be the appropriate leave type. If you are advised to self-isolate but feeling well, your agency should facilitate you to work from home if practical to do so, while you monitor your health. If working from home is not practical paid discretionary leave (or equivalent) for the required isolation period should be provided. Circular 2020/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements refers.

If I am required to self-isolate due to personal travel what kind of leave do I take?

If you chose to undertake personal overseas travel or personal travel to areas with known self-isolation requirements, you must use your own accrued annual or long service leave for the purposes of the self-isolation.

If accrued annual or long service leave is not available, you will need to access leave without pay. If you are unwell, personal leave may be accessed with appropriate medical evidence. Work from home arrangements may be negotiated with your supervisor, if appropriate in the circumstances. Circular 2020/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements refers.

I am a labour hire worker/contractor what kind of leave arrangements are available to me?

Labour hire workers are not Australian Government employees, and are generally the employee of labour hire companies. Any leave arrangements will need to be discussed with your employer (i.e. the labour hire company).

I am a casual employee who has to self-isolate do I get access to paid arrangements?

Yes.  Due to the current extraordinary circumstances of the outbreak and the potential widespread impact, paid arrangements should be extended to casual employees who are required to isolate having had exposure to or contracted COVID-19. This is to minimise any incentive for employees to attend the workplace against medical advice and to minimise exposure to the public. 

Where a casual employee is required to self‑isolate but is not unwell, work from home arrangements should be facilitated, where practicable. Where working from home is not practicable, casual employees should get paid arrangements as per Circular 2020/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements.

I am a casual employee who has to care for a sick relative or a child following a school closure. Do I get access to paid arrangements?

No. The paid arrangements do not extend to casual employees who have caring responsibilities. Work from home arrangements could be considered, where practicable. Circular 2020/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements refers.

I am a casual employee and am sick with something other than COVID-19. Do I get access to paid arrangements?

No. The paid arrangements only apply to casual employees who are required to isolate due to exposure to or testing positive for COVID-19.  Circular 2020/1: COVID-19 leave arrangements refers.

I am a casual employee who has a diminished workload as a result of COVID-19. Do I get access to paid arrangements?

No. Casual employees will not get paid arrangements in situations where agencies have a diminished workload. Casuals may choose to be available for reassignment of duties in their agency or a temporary mobility opportunities in the APS. You should discuss these options with your supervisor. Casual employees are not eligible for paid stand-by.

Last reviewed: 
29 September 2020