APS agencies have been told to remain flexible in their response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including the need for staff to work from home.
The Australian Public Service Commission has updated its advice to agencies issued in September 2020, Circular 2020/9: Returning to Usual Workplaces, in the face of the current Omicron wave of the virus.
Before Christmas, government expectations were that staff would return to their offices as the number of infections appeared to wane, but the Omicron surge has prompted many agencies to return staff to their homes or keep them there.
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“Agency heads will need to continue to respond to the emergence of new COVID-19 variants and continue to act on government, public health and other relevant advice, and make timely decisions to ensure business continuity and a safe transition back to the workplace as appropriate,” the advice says.
It says the diversity of working environments means the APS cannot take a single approach and that agency heads remain responsible for making working from home decisions.
“Agencies should be flexible in responding and adapting to changes in advice from the Australian Government and state and territory governments,” the updated circular advises.
Agency heads are being given a broad scope in dealing with the situation, including deploying a mix of working arrangements and working on a case-by-case basis.
This includes modifying workplace attendance arrangements where the agency cannot maintain physical distancing, such as rostering staff to work from the office or home on different days or alternating weeks, or commencing flexible start and finish times.
When the situation improves, agencies need to be clear about how and when staff will return to their offices and what plans are in place if the COVID environment changes.
The public servants union says it had to lobby agencies to put their back-to-office plans on hold and return to working-from-home arrangements, particularly Services Australia.
The CPSU had called on agencies to review their COVID protocols and for current government COVID-19 arrangements to be updated to take into account the new variant.