Federal employers should offer personal leave to all staff — including casuals — who are required to isolate due to COVID-19, while public servants should avoid travelling for work, new advice from the Australian Public Service Commission says.
In a circular released to federal agencies and departments, the APSC says if workers test positive for the virus, they should use personal leave if unwell or receive paid discretionary leave if they have insufficient personal leave.
“Where an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and remains well, work-from-home arrangements should be supported where appropriate,” the commission adds.
Permanent and part-time employees should also use existing personal leave or other flexible leave if they need to get a test, the APSC says.
With a proportion of public servants also likely to become household or close contacts of positive cases, the APSC says these employees should be supported to work from home.
“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,” the commission says.
This extends to casual staff, the circular highlights, with paid leave to be offered to casuals who are required to isolate or test positive for the virus and can’t otherwise work from home if not unwell.
“This exceptional measure is in place for the duration of the pandemic until otherwise advised by the Australian Government Department of Health,” the APSC says.
But the APSC has left it open to employers to decide the standard of evidence required for staff to access COVID-related leave.
“It is recommended that a common-sense approach be adopted regarding evidence requirements,” the commission says.
Agencies have been told this might include proof of travel, medical advice, evidence of self-testing reported to states and territories, or communication from governments.
The commission has advised against requiring medical certificates unless the employee becomes unwell.
The leave benefits do not extend to labour-hire staff, whose leave and pay conditions are the responsibility of the labour-hire company, the commission says.
Agencies have also received advice that employees should avoid unnecessary work travel.
“Employees are responsible for their decisions related to personal travel,” the APSC says.
“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.”
Travel for personal reasons resulting in isolation in circumstances where the employee can’t work remotely will likely require the worker to use annual, long service, purchased leave credits or leave without pay if it could be reasonably anticipated their absence could have been foreseen.