Circular 2022/1: 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. It updates and replaces Circular 2020/1.
- 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 includes putting in place special, time-limited arrangements to practically deal with public health issues.
- APS employers and employees should act to reduce the risk of further spread of COVID-19 and must comply with the exposure, testing and isolation 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.
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, they should contact the National Coronavirus Helpline 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, 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. If the employee has insufficient credits to cover the medically advised period, paid discretionary leave (or equivalent) should be provided. Where an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and remains well, work from home arrangements should be supported where appropriate.
- Where an employee has been advised to self-isolate through close or other contact (as defined by local public health advice) with a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, but a positive diagnosis has not been received, agencies should attempt to enable the employee to work from home while they monitor their health. Where working from home is not practical or there is no facility for working remotely, but the employee is otherwise well, paid discretionary leave for the period required by the relevant health authority should be provided.
Employees in a household affected by COVID-19
- In accordance with local public health advice, employees may be required to self-isolate where the employee has a household member who is positively diagnosed with COVID-19 and the employee is considered a close contact. Each circumstance needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
- As outlined at paragraph 10, if the employee is well and the 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, paid discretionary leave for the period required by the relevant health authority should be provided.
- If the employee is subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19, paragraph 9 applies.
- Where an employee is required to provide care or support for a family or household member due to a medical direction, paid carer’s leave should be provided. If the employee has insufficient credits to cover the medically advised period, paid discretionary leave (or equivalent) should be provided.
- Where an unexpected emergency requires the employee to care for their family or household member, paid carer’s leave should be provided. An example of this may be where a school is closed at short notice, or temporarily due to a child or staff member testing positive to COVID-19. Discretionary leave may be used if paid leave is exhausted. Please see Fair Work Ombudsman guidance.
- Where an employee is deemed an ‘essential worker’, and where schools are open or arrangements for the children of essential workers are available, employees should make use of these facilities, or work remotely where possible and agreed with a supervisor.
- 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.
- Due to the current extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19 and the potential widespread impact, paid arrangements should be extended to casual employees who are required to isolate due to COVID-19 exposure or who contract the virus, and who cannot otherwise work from home. This exceptional measure is in place for the duration of the pandemic until otherwise advised by the Australian Government Department of Health.
- This is to minimise any incentive for employees to attend the workplace against medical advice and to minimise further transmission.
- Agencies should ensure that paid arrangements to enable absence, such as paid discretionary leave (or equivalent), are in place to allow casual employees to self-isolate when required to do so by the relevant health authority (where the employee is not able to work from home). This could include determinations being made under section 24(1) of the Public Service Act 1999, other agency employment legislation or the use of individual flexibility arrangements.
- In determining the amount of payment, where possible, agencies should consider the agreed or accepted shifts in the period undertaken by the casual employee. This may include averaging work done over the settlement period immediately before the employee was required to self-isolate, or considering the upcoming work schedule and any plans to engage the employee over that period.
- Agencies should discuss options with their payroll providers early to ensure there is an ability to put arrangements in place quickly when required.
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.
- Agencies should ensure, and require labour hire providers to ensure, that labour hire workers and contractors who are advised not to be present at the workplace are absent for the advised period.
- 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.
- Agencies should carefully consider the need for employees to embark on work-related travel when public health orders are in place, discouraging unnecessary travel.
- 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, paid discretionary leave (or equivalent) for the required isolation period can be provided in line with the relevant industrial instrument.
- Employees are responsible for their decisions related to personal travel. Where an employee is advised to self-isolate because of recent personal travel, but is otherwise well, 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, agencies may require the employee to access their annual, long service or purchased leave credits, or provide the employee with leave without pay if the employee could have reasonably anticipated an additional period of absence for isolation requirements prior to commencing travel.
- Where APS employees choose to undertake personal travel to areas with known self‑isolation requirements, the additional time will be covered by the employee’s own leave, or they can be granted leave without pay, unless work from home arrangements are negotiated with supervisor agreement in advance.
- Paid discretionary leave may be appropriate where an employee is subjected to isolation or stay at home orders due to travelling for compassionate reasons.
- APS employees who choose to undertake personal overseas travel are to use their own accrued annual, long service leave or purchased leave for the purposes of self-isolation on return to Australia. If accrued annual, long service leave or purchased leave is not available, employees will need to access leave without pay. If the employee is unwell, personal leave may be accessed with appropriate medical evidence. Work from home arrangements may be negotiated with supervisor agreement, where the employee is otherwise well.
- Agencies need to consider what they will accept as reasonable evidence for COVID-related leave requests. This may vary depending on requirements under leave provisions in workplace arrangements.
- It is recommended that a common sense approach be adopted regarding evidence requirements which may include proof of travel, medical advice, evidence of self-testing reported to a state or territory jurisdiction, communication from a state or territory health authority providing particular direction or a statutory declaration affirming an employee’s particular claims.
- It is recommended that employees not be required to obtain a medical certificate for self-isolating, unless they become unwell.
- Agencies should continue to review their policies and procedures in light of emerging issues.
- Maintaining agency operations and continuing to serve the community will remain important as we continue to navigate the impacts of COVID-19. It will be critical for employees to be able to attend work to continue to deliver services to the public. Employees are expected to attend work or notify their employers as to reasons for their absence.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interaction with other circulars
- This Circular supersedes Circular 2020/1: COVID-19 Leave Arrangements.
- This circular should be read in conjunction with Circular 2022/07: Managing the impact of COVID-19 on Commonwealth agencies