APS getting ready to return to offices

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday May 13, 2020


Agencies across the federal government will soon be implementing plans to bring thousands of employees back to the office after months of working from home, according to the Australian Public Service Commission.

The APSC on Tuesday published information regarding the move back to the workplace, noting that transition plans would likely vary across the APS workforce “given the diversity of working environments”.

Agency heads would begin developing and implementing their plans for a gradual transition in line with the phased lifting of coronavirus restrictions across the country.

The plans would take individual agencies’ business and operational circumstances into consideration, the commission noted.

“Transition plans will need to focus on the wellbeing of staff, continued provision of safe work environments and the delivery of critical services to the public,” it said.

The APSC last week published advice for agency heads to consider in creating a “COVID-Safe transition plan” for their agency, and has called on them to implement Safe Work Australia’s COVID-19 safe workplace principles.

It noted national cabinet’s decision to review the relaxing of restrictions every three weeks, with hopes to have all workers back in their workplaces by July.

APS agency bosses would be responsible for deciding where their employees work from, whether from the office or remotely. However, some employees might be forced to return to their usual workplace, the commission said.

Those who wish to continue to use their work station equipment at home would need to speak to their supervisor.

The APSC recommended agency heads consider whether some employees have a greater need to be in their usual workplaces than others, and urged them to consider the health and safety of employees when developing and implementing their agency transition plans.

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

It has also published advice for agency managers on physical distancing and reducing transmission of the virus.

Meanwhile, employees who are vulnerable or live with a vulnerable person should speak with their supervisor about their work arrangements.

READ MORE: How managers can support employees with disability to work from home

Regarding schools, the APSC argued that all APS employees are considered essential, and should be able to access supervision for their children in most instances.

Employees who wish to keep their children home when schools reopen should speak with their supervisor about flexible work arrangements. Those who cannot work because they have decided to keep their children home will need to use available leave credits, the APSC said.

“Where credits are exhausted, there is no entitlement to additional paid leave,” it warned.

If schools close and employees need to take leave, they should refer to an updated APSC circular on the types of leave that could be used where facilities, including schools, have been closed.

The commission said that where employees continue to work from home, their pay and conditions would stay the same in most cases. Workers who receive an allowance should speak to their agency.

Employees who have been struggling with their mental health should talk to their supervisor, colleagues, or HR team, and can access the Employee Assistance Program. The APSC has also published a list of tips for looking after mental health during the pandemic.

READ MORE: Comcare publishes working-from-home checklist

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