APS Commission issues guidance on leave for public servants during COVID-19

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday March 18, 2020

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The Australian Public Service Commission has told agencies to use their “common sense” when seeking evidence from employees who request leave as a result of the coronavirus.

In an updated circular, the APSC advised federal government agencies and public servants on leave arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 should receive paid personal leave for personal illness, the APSC said. If an employee lacks the credits needed to cover their isolation period, paid discretionary leave (or equivalent) should be given.

Agencies can request reasonable evidence, as per their industrial instrument, but they must consider what they will accept as reasonable evidence, the APSC said.

“It is recommended that a common sense approach be adopted regarding evidence requirements which may include proof of travel, medical advice or a statutory declaration confirming close contact with an individual who has tested positive,” the circular stated. “It is recommended that employees not be required to obtain a medical certificate for self-isolating unless they become unwell.”

Agencies should allow undiagnosed employees who have been told to self-isolate to work from home while they monitor their health, the APSC said. If they are unable to do so, they should receive paid discretionary leave for the isolation period.

Some circumstances must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, the APSC said.

If a worker’s housemate is self–isolating but doesn’t need care, the employee should keep going to work, unless they have also been told to self-isolate.

Employees must isolate themselves if they have a household member with COVID-19, and can work from home. If they’re unable to work remotely, paid discretionary leave should be provided for the required isolation period.

If the employee is subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19, access to paid personal leave for personal illness should be provided. If personal leave is exhausted, they must be given access to paid discretionary leave.

Workers who must care or support a family member due to a facility shut-down must be provided with paid carer’s leave.

The APSC recommended agencies contact workers who have health concerns which may make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus, and consider options such as working from home or transfer to a non-public facing job on a case-by-case basis.

It urged agencies to review their policies and procedures in light of emerging issues, while continuing to deliver services.

“Maintaining agency operations and continuing to serve the community will remain important as we navigate these uncertain times,” it said.

“It will be critical for employees 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.”

The APSC noted that paid arrangements have been extended to casual employees in isolation. This measure — resulting from pressure from the Community and Public Sector Union — is in place for the duration of the pandemic, until advised by the Department of Health.

Agencies “should consider the agreed or accepted shifts in the period undertaken by the casual employee” in determining the amount of payment. This could include averaging work done over the settlement period immediately before the employee was told to self-isolate, or considering the employee’s planned work schedule or engagement over that period. Agencies should also discuss options with their payroll providers early to ensure there is an ability to put in place quickly.

The APSC said that while leave and pay conditions of labour hire workers “remain a matter for the labour hire company”, they should still consult the providers to ensure they have plans in place to minimise the chances of COVID-19 affected employees presenting at workplaces. They should also engage with providers on arrangements to fulfil contracts remotely where possible.

Agencies can email [email protected] for more information.

Employees who think they have been exposed to COVID-19 should call the coronavirus health information hotline on 1800 020 080 as a first point of contact.

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