Circular 2022/07: Managing the impacts of COVID-19 on Commonwealth agencies
- The purpose of this Circular is to provide advice to agencies about managing the fluctuating impacts of COVID-19. The following advice applies to all Commonwealth agencies and their employees including ongoing, non ongoing and casual employees.
- The Australian Public Service plays an essential role in delivering services for the Australian people – the focus of agencies and employees in responding to the evolving COVID-19 situation should be the continued delivery of services to the public, as well as ensuring COVID-safe workplaces.
- Agency heads should act on government, public health and other relevant advice, making timely decisions to ensure the ongoing safety of employees, while also ensuring the continued delivery of services to the public.
- A single approach to managing the impacts of COVID-19 across the Commonwealth is not practicable given the diversity of working environments, occupations and workplace locations. Each agency’s approach will need to be tailored to their particular circumstances.
- Where an agency has a geographically dispersed operating environment, Agency heads should refer to the applicable state and territory public health advice, noting that workplace requirements may vary within agencies, depending on the jurisdiction.
- Agency heads should be mindful of their obligations as employers, including all relevant workplace health and safety obligations. This includes that all reasonable precautions are taken in line with public health and other advice in relation to those employees required to attend their usual place of work.
Workplace flexibility in response to COVID-19
- Agency heads are responsible for making COVID-related decisions about the availability of workplace flexibility, including working from home arrangements, in the context of their business continuity plans.
- Agencies must continue to implement and update their business continuity plans, including risk management contingencies, to account for the emergence of new variants and fluctuations in cases including the impact of staff absences due to illness.
- Agencies should communicate these plans to employees to ensure business continuity and maintain regular discussions with staff on COVID-safe work practices (see Paragraph 8).
- Agency head decisions should take in to account public health and other relevant advice, as well as the need to ensure that workplaces continue to be safe, with reference to the National COVID-19 Safe Workplaces Principles.
- Where a state or territory public health agency is providing advice that is not binding but provides a best practice approach, agencies should pay careful attention and consider adopting this approach.
- Given the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, and fluctuations in cases, agencies should remain flexible in responding and adapting to changes in such advice.
- For operational reasons, some employees will be required to physically attend their usual workplace. For others, flexibility, including working from home arrangements, may be a suitable option.
- The ability for employees to work from home will depend on the public health and other advice available, and the type of work they are required to undertake.
- In relation to flexible working arrangements, agency heads must consider the individual circumstances of employees and the epidemiological environment. This should include an assessment of risk and controls.
- Arrangements may be provided for cohorts of employees, or on a case-by-case basis.
- This Circular does not limit or restrict existing agency head powers relating to flexible working arrangements for reasons not related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Agencies should undertake ongoing assessments of their workplaces to ensure they remain COVID-safe, taking into account public health and other relevant advice issued by the Australian Government and state and territory government, including where applicable, relating to matters such as physical distancing and mask wearing and the National COVID-19 Safe Workplaces Principles.
- Considerations in such assessments may include:
- a systematic risk assessment of work health and safety risks in accordance with advice published by Safe Work Australia;
- adhering to physical distancing principles/requirements, with particular consideration given to common areas such as kitchens and break out spaces;
- maximum occupancy capacity of enclosed spaces, such as offices and meeting rooms;
- ensuring interactions between employees while working and on breaks are managed in a COVID‑safe way;
- modifying workplace attendance arrangements where the agency cannot maintain physical distancing in the workplace, or where public transport risk mitigation measures affect travel (for example, rostering employees to work from the office or home on different days or alternating weeks, or facilitating more flexible start and finish times);
- connectivity and employee wellbeing;
- guidance and support to assist employees in the transition to their usual workplace; and
- ongoing workplace health and safety implications and obligations both in the workplace and when working from home.
- Agencies should engage with employees and, where they choose, their representatives to:
- identify and control risks;
- adapt and promote safe work practices;
- actively control against the transmission of COVID 19 in the workplace; and
- respond to cases of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Supporting employees working from home due to COVID-19 outbreaks
- Agency heads should put in place arrangements to support employees who are working from home as a result of the agency’s response to COVID-19. This may include regular check-in arrangements, teleconferences and other mechanisms to maintain regular communication between employees and their managers.
- Where employees are unable to access supervision for their children, in the first instance, agencies should facilitate flexible working arrangements to allow employees to continue working.
- Where flexible working arrangements cannot be accommodated, agencies should consider whether the employee can temporarily undertake a different (more flexible) role, either within their agency or in a different agency.
- Where an employee is unavailable for work, they will need to access an approved leave type.
- Employees who make themselves unavailable for work may utilise their available leave credits. Where credits are exhausted, there is no entitlement to additional paid leave.
- Paid carer’s leave may be appropriate in specific circumstances. Paid carer’s leave is available to full-time or part-time employees where the employee needs to look after a family member or a member of their household who requires care or support because of a personal illness or unexpected emergency affecting the member. See Fair Work Ombudsman guidance on personal/carer’s leave during COVID-19 and Circular 2022/1: COVID-19 Leave Arrangements for further information.
- 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.
- Individual agency heads are also responsible for determining their agency’s approach toward supporting their employees to get tested for COVID-19 and screening in workplaces to maintain delivery of critical functions. This should be in line with Government advice, state and territory public health orders and guidance published by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Interaction with other Circulars
- This Circular does not supersede, and should be read in conjunction with:
- Circular 2022/11: COVID-19 Leave Arrangements
- Circular 2021/09: COVID-19 Vaccination policies in Australian Government workplaces
- Circular 2021/05: COVID-19 Vaccinations for Commonwealth officials travelling overseas
- Circular 2021/01: COVID-19 Vaccinations
- This Circular supersedes and entirely replaces: