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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

This webpage has been created to make it easier for MOP(S) employees to access the range of information currently available about coronavirus (COVID-19). this page will be regularly updated – please check here before contacting the MaPS Helpdesk with any queries.

On this page

Information about Work Health Safety and Wellbeing during COVID-19 can be found on the dedicated page on this website. This includes practical tips, the Employee Assistance Program, the working from home checklist and other helpful resources.

Background

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization characterised the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic.

On 27 February 2020, the Prime Minister announced the activation of the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

For information on the current status in Australia, please visit the Department of Health website.

COVID-19 Temporary Deployment – Administrative Arrangements

As noted in circular 2020/09, consistent with the Prime Minister’s directive to the Australian Public Service, you can now register your interest to be temporarily deployed to Australian government agencies to assist with delivering critical government functions.

These deployments will be managed by Finance as short-term secondments. You will remain an employee of your employing parliamentarian and retain your current pay conditions.

Registering interest for deployment

If you are interested in registering for deployment you will need to:

During the secondment you will be required to:

  • act consistently with the Australian Public Service (APS) Code of Conduct
  • accept that the receiving APS agency may end the arrangement at any time
  • work in accordance with the need to know principle and manage conflicts of interest
  • comply with any security clearance requirements of the relevant APS agency

Note

  • secondment arrangements apply to ongoing and non-ongoing employees only
  • registering an interest to be deployed does not guarantee you a secondment
  • your details will be provided to the APSC who will coordinate matching secondees with relevant agencies based on a range of considerations, including identification of agencies that require additional staff; assessment of relevant skills and experience, location and length of secondment.
  • if you are chosen by an APS agency for deployment, you and your employing parliamentarian will need to sign an MOU agreeing to the secondment terms.

Working from home arrangements relating to COVID-19

Do I need Ministerial approval to work from home or for an alternative work base?

As noted in Circular 2020/02 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, parliamentarians can approve working from home and leave arrangements. The Minister does not need to approve these working from home arrangements.

If an employee with an established work base is working from home temporarily during the COVID-19 situation, Ministerial approval for the employee to work from home or approval for an alternative work base is not required.

If an employee is temporarily working from an alternative location during the COVID-19 pandemic for personal reasons, they will not have been directed to travel to that location by their employing parliamentarian on official business. Therefore, they will not be entitled to claim travel or Travelling Allowance related to working from that location. If an employee is working from an alternative location that is interstate, the employing parliamentarian should notify the Minister in writing that they have an employee that will be based interstate during the COVID-19 situation.

If an employee is permanently relocating to a new location, the employing parliamentarian must seek approval if the new location is an ongoing working from home arrangement and/or an alternative work base, i.e. the usual Ministerial approvals must be sought.

If the employee is a casual employee and their work location would be an alternative work base (e.g. not Parliament House or an office provided at Commonwealth expense), the employing parliamentarian must seek the Minister’s approval, as the employee does not have an established work base.

What needs to be done before I work from home?

Where an employee works from home they are required to complete the Work Health and Safety Checklist - Working from Home or from a Privately-Funded Office (Form 151), to meet WHS obligations. Form 151 has recently been updated to included infromation from Comcare and any future assessments should be completed using this updated form. If any issues are identified through the completion of the Checklist, the employee should discuss the identified risks with their employer and ensure they are satisfactorily resolved. You should retain the checklist for future reference, however you do not need to send it to the Department.

The ATO has provided advice on working from home during COVID-19 as part of an individual's personal tax arrangements. Employees can consider this in reltation to equipment purchased to support them working from home during COVID-19.

To assist with reducing the rate of transmission of COVID-19 throughout the community, the Department of Health has outlined circumstances where individuals should self-isolate.

The Minister has provided flexibility to Parliamentarians to make decisions to address staffing needs and working arrangements within their respective electorate offices (see SMOS circular 2020/06 Protecting the health and safety of MOP(S) Act employees). In doing so, the Minister has encouraged each Parliamentarian to consider the health and safety obligations and the advice from the Department of Health in determining how to minimise risks to their staff and other persons in the electorate office arising from potential exposure to COVID-19.

This would include educating workers on best practice to minimise the spread of infection, self-isolation requirements or potentially closing electorate offices to the public.              

Given the Prime Minister’s advice on 29 March 2020, Parliamentarians may wish to consider facilitating working from home where it is reasonably practicable to do so. Whether it is reasonably practicable to do so will depend on the ability for staff to work from home and the type of work they undertake and the operational requirements of the electorate office. 

If working from home is not possible due to operational requirements, Parliamentarians should ensure staff working in electorate offices are adhering to social distancing principles, and following the latest health and hygiene advice from the Department of Health and Chief Medical Officers.

This guidance does not cover situations where an employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19, is caring for somebody who has, and/or is required to self-isolate by a relevant health authority. Leave arrangements in these circumstances are set out below.

Please see more information below in the FAQs section.

Office cleaning

We are currently working through a number of preventative hygiene activities in Commonwealth Parliament Offices (CPO) and electorate offices around the country.

Activities occurring in the CPOs include:

  • the installation of hand sanitiser units in entry points and common kitchens
  • signage placed in kitchens and bathrooms reminding people of good hygiene practices
  • in addition to the general building cleaning arrangements, a twice daily cleaning of common touch points including bench surfaces in kitchens, lift buttons, hand rails, door handles etc.

Further cleaning activities will be considered on a case by case basis.

We will continue to work with building owners to assess and alleviate any risks to staff working or visitors working in and entering the building.

Please remember that your best protection right now is good hygiene practices and particularly regular hand washing and covering your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing.

Frequently asked questions

Please see below for FAQs. These will be updated as advice or information changes.

Questions

Confirmed or suspected cases

Do I need to let anyone know if I have been diagnosed with coronavirus?

Yes, you must advise your employing parliamentarian and MaPS at mpshelp@finance.gov.au if you have been diagnosed with coronavirus and the period you will be in isolation.

What do I do if I’m notified that one of my staff has been diagnosed with coronavirus?

Like any other illness, you should seek to obtain the appropriate medical evidence to support the absence. There is an additional requirement that medical clearance will be required for the employee to return to work. You should also advise MaPS at mpshelp@finance.gov.au as soon as they are aware of an employee being diagnosed. We are seeking clarification from the Department of Health regarding the obligation to notify work colleagues to ensure appropriate isolation arrangements can be made.

What should I do if someone in my office or building has coronavirus?

People infected with coronavirus must remain isolated in either their home or a healthcare setting until public health authorities inform them it is safe to return to their usual activities. Where there is a known case in one of the buildings housing the Commonwealth Parliament Offices or an electorate office, the building manager will organise for a special office clean.

It is a matter for the building managers to arrange all cleaning, including the use of protective arrangements by cleaning staff.

Once the office has been cleaned, staff will be able to return to the office.

Social distancing

What is social distancing and why is it important?

Social distancing includes ways to stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases. It means less contact between you and other people.

Social distancing is important because COVID-19 is most likely to spread from person-to-person through:

  • direct close contact with a person while they are infectious or in the 48 hours before their symptoms appeared
  • close contact with a person with a confirmed infection who coughs or sneezes
  • touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles or tables) contaminated from a cough or sneeze from a person with a confirmed infection, and then touching your mouth or face.

So the more space between you and others, the harder it is for the virus to spread.

Social distancing in the workplace

If you are sick, you must not attend your workplace. You must stay at home and away from others.

To reduce the spread of germs in the workplace:

  • stay at home wherever possible
  • stop handshaking as a greeting
  • hold meetings via video conferencing or phone call
  • defer large meetings
  • hold essential meetings outside in the open air if possible
  • promote good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene and provide hand sanitisers for all staff and workers
  • take lunch at your desk or outside rather than in the lunch room
  • clean and disinfect high touch surfaces regularly
  • consider opening windows and adjusting air conditioning for more ventilation
  • limit food handling and sharing of food in the workplace
  • reconsider non-essential business travel

More information about social distancing in the workplace can be found on the Safework Australia website.

Most at risk

Who is most at risk?

Some people who are infected may not get sick at all, some will get mild symptoms from which they will recover easily, and others may become very ill, very quickly. 

From previous experience with other coronaviruses, the people at most risk of serious infection are:

  • people with compromised immune systems (e.g. cancer patients)
  • elderly people
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as they have higher rates of chronic illness
  • people with chronic medical conditions
  • people in group residential settings
  • people in detention facilities
  • very young children and babies

At this stage, the risk to children and babies, and the role children play in transmission of COVID-19, is not clear. However, there has so far been a low rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases among children, relative to the broader population.

If you fall into this category, please discuss this and any impact on your working arrangements with your Parliamentarian, and if appropriate seek medical advice.

Symptoms and potential exposure

What should I do if I am experiencing cold or flu like symptoms?

If you are experiencing cold or flu like symptoms, you should not come to work – you should seek medical attention. If you are at work, you should leave and seek medical attention.  In both scenarios you should notify your employer/employees.

What does it mean to have been in ‘close contact’ with someone?

A close contact is defined as requiring:

  • greater than 15 minutes face-to-face contact in any setting with a confirmed case in the period extending from 48 hours before onset of symptoms in the confirmed case

OR

  • sharing of a closed space with a confirmed case for a prolonged period (e.g. more than 2 hours) in the period extending from 48 hours before onset of symptoms in the confirmed case.

What should I do if I have been in close contact with a person who has travelled to a higher risk country in past 14 days?

The Department of Health advice is that members of a household are not required to be isolated unless they have also travelled to a higher risk country in the past 14 days, or have been in close contact with someone who has a proven case of coronavirus.

Should I come to work if I have been in contact with someone that has flu like symptoms but has not been diagnosed with coronavirus?

If you have been in contact with someone who is unwell but has not been diagnosed with coronavirus (even if they have been isolated) and you are feeling well, you can continue to come to work. You should continue to monitor your health to protect both yourself and your colleagues, and practice good hygiene to protect against infection.

Overseas travel

Do I need to do anything if I have just returned from an overseas trip?

All travellers arriving into Australia from overseas after 12am 16 March 2020 must self-isolate for 14 days.

If you returned from overseas prior to this date, please see the list of high and moderate risk countries on the Department of Home Affairs website. If you travelled through one of these countries you must self-isolate for 14 days.

If you have returned from overseas prior to 12am 16 March 2020 from a country that has not been identified as high you must advise your employer/employees, and monitor your health for 14 days after leaving that country. If you develop a fever or cough, seek medical advice urgently and isolate yourself.

Self-isolation

When do I need to self-isolate?

You must self-isolate for 14 days if you

  • have returned or return from overseas after 12am 16 March 2020
  • have returned from a country identified as higher risk by the Department of Health
  • have been in close contact with a person who has been diagnosed with coronavirus

As the coronavirus situation is evolving each day, please refer to the Department of Health website or Department of Home Affairs website for the current list of countries considered as higher risk.

If you are self-isolating, please advise MaPS at mpshelp@finance.gov.au.

How long do I need to self-isolate for?

Self-isolation after visiting a higher risk country is usually 14 days from the time you left the country but you should refer to the Department of Health website for specific detail.

If you have been in close contact with a proven case of coronavirus, you must isolate yourself for 14 days from the date of last contact with the confirmed case. If you are self-isolating, please advise MaPS at mpshelp@finance.gov.au.

Office Management

Should I/Can I close my office?

This is a decision for each member of Parliament. Please review the current advice from the Department of Health when considering closing your office. It may be an option to close to all visitors and guests, but enable staff to continue working from the office.

What do I do if I need toilet paper or hand sanitiser for my Electorate Office?

You can place an order through COS as normal. If they are not able to fill your order, please contact your State Manager.

What happens if my building is a designated testing location?

Designated testing locations and clinics will operate under strict protocols to best protect everyone working and visiting them and those in the immediate vicinity. Where locations and clinics are co-located with other tenants, mechanisms such as dedicated entrances or wings and isolation controls will be implemented in line with health safety and standards. You should avoid any designated areas and entrances and continue to practice good hygiene such as regularly washing your hands and covering your mouth or nose when you cough or sneeze.

Working from home arrangements relating to COVID-19

What needs to be done before I work from home?

Where an employee works from home they are required to complete the Work Health and Safety Checklist - Working from Home or from a Privately-Funded Office (Form 151), to meet WHS obligations. If any issues are identified through the completion of the Checklist, the employee should discuss the identified risks with their employer and ensure they are satisfactorily resolved. You should retain the checklist for future reference, however you do not need to send it to the Department.

If I have to work from home, will I get reimbursed for the cost of data and phone usage?

Members are provided ICT equipment (including mobile devices) by DPS as office resources. Additional ICT equipment and services can be provided by DPS with costs met from members’ annual budget for office expenses. The cost of software, including cloud-based services and storage, can also be met as an office expense.

Office resources and office expenses provided under the PBR Act must be used by the member or their staff for the dominant purpose of the member’s parliamentary business and must provide value for money.

Am I still covered under workers compensation while I am working from home?

Yes. Where an employee has approval to work from home you will be covered under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act (SRC Act). More information can be found on the Comcare website.

Comcare has released information for employers to assist in managing workers compensation claims arising from employees working from home during COVID-19. Please review the Comcare website alongside the Employer Information - claims involving working from home fact sheet.

How do I arrange an assessment of my workstation?

Consistent with your obligations to proactively take care of your own health and safety while at work, all employees working remotely must take active steps to set up a safe working environment. You are strongly encouraged to view a recorded webinar which provides an understanding of key home office ergonomic principles and a range of health, safety and wellbeing considerations to reduce the risk of injury when working in a home office environment. You can watch the live recording by accessing the MOPs Employee PDP channel on GoTo.

You are also encouraged to complete the online ergonomic self-assessment tool on Skytrust at www.skytrust.co. Where further assessment is required, it is possible to have a guided assessment over the phone via Facetime with our WHS provider.

To access the self-assessment tool go to the induction tile on the left hand column of the Skytrust homepage. On the next screen click on ‘start online Induction training’ and this will take you to the next screen where you will see the ‘Workstation Setup and Ergonomic Assessment tool’.

Can I take equipment that has been prescribed for me in a workstation assessment (e.g. special keyboard, special mouse, ergonomic chair) home with me?

If you have already been provided with ergonomic equipment from a prior assessment and require the equipment to enable you to work remotely, you should speak with your employer about safely transporting the equipment to your home for the duration of your working from home arrangement. All equipment must be returned to your work place once the arrangement has ceased.

Please contact DPS on (02) 6277 2020 regarding any ICT equipment you may wish to take home with you.

What are my obligations regarding staying in touch with my employer while I am working from home? How do I communicate with my colleagues while I am working from home?

This should be discussed within your teams, however it is very important to ensure regular communication is maintained if working remotely.

Managers should be ensuring all team members working remotely remain connected with the team and are in regular contact.

Formal expectations should be discussed with your employer.

What if I have a pre-existing injury?

If you currently have a compensable condition or are receiving support through the department for a non-compensable condition, it is important that you continue to adhere to any medical restrictions and return to work programs that have been implemented.

The Comcare website contains information for employees about how COVID-19 effects rehabilitation and return to work for existing claims. 

If you need additional support call the MaPS Helpdesk on 02 6215 3333 and they will direct you to the WHS team who can provide strategies to assist you.

How do I obtain support (technical, wellbeing etc.) while I am working from home?

Support can be obtained through the usual methods during periods where you are working from home.

DPS ICT– 02 6277 2020 

EAP1800 945 145 or info@assureprograms.com.au

WHS – MOPSWHS@finance.gov.au

MaPS Help Desk – 02 6215 3333

For more information see the working from home page on this website

What happens if I am injured while working from home?

Seek medical attention if required, immediately notify your supervisor that you have sustained an injury and submit an incident report through Skytrust at www.skytrust.co. You could also call the WHS Provider JLT on 1300 418 288 or email mops.safety@jlt.com.au to notify the incident.

Early intervention may be available for injuries sustained while working from home. Please contact MOPSsupport@finance.gov.au to discuss with one of our case managers.

GovTEAMS

What is GovTEAMS and how can I use it?

GovTEAMS is an online collaboration platform specifically developed for the Australian Government by the Department of Finance. It is important to note that GovTEAMS is not hosted or managed by DPS. The solution provides users with access to team chat, audio and video conferencing. We recommend  this platform is used for video conferencing only and not used to share, store or transmit any documents or material that would normally be managed through the parliamentary computing network.

Prior to registering, you should consider any matters pertaining to parliamentary privilege and the use of GovTEAMS. Please read the Privacy Notice and  Terms of Use prior to registering.

How do I use GovTEAMS?

To use GovTEAMS, you will need to register from the GovTEAMS website. Once registered you can create a community and invite other members and guests to join your community as required.

Further information is available through the GovTEAMS website, the GovTEAMS getting started guide and the GovTEAMS registration guide. When registering, please select 'Department of Parliamentary Services' as your Department. Offices requiring assistance in the use of GovTEAMS should contact Finance at MOPs.GovTEAMS@finance.gov.au.

Leave relating to COVID-19

Consistent with whole of government protocols relating to COVID-19, the following arrangements have been put in place for MOP(S) Act employees.

MOP(S) staff who are required to meet costs personally, such as mobile phone and data use, may wish to seek a discretionary payment. This is provided under clause 27 of the MOP(S) Enterprise Agreement.

To be eligible:

  • You must be a current MOP(S) employee
  • You mustn’t have received reimbursement or compensation through other means
  • You must have incurred additional costs that you would not have otherwise incurred, e.g. additional mobile data costs beyond the allocation under your mobile plan
  • The additional costs must represent value for money, e.g. you sought to minimise costs by purchasing an additional block of data, rather than paying for individual gigabytes
  • The additional costs must be directly related to working remotely because of COVID-19.

To check the eligibility of your claim or to submit it please contact the Staff Helpdesk: mpshelp@finance.gov.au

Ongoing and non-ongoing employees

For ongoing and non-ongoing employees, various forms of leave may be granted depending on an employee’s circumstances. Refer to the table below. For casual employees see the separate section further below.

Circumstance

Form of leave

Employee is well but is required to self-isolate AND CAN work from home

None – employee can work from home

Employee is well but is required to self-isolate AND CANNOT work from home

Paid miscellaneous leave

 

Employee:

  • initially is well but is required to self-isolate AND CANNOT work from home
  • then subsequently becomes unwell from COVID-19

Paid miscellaneous leave until the employee becomes unwell, then they should access paid personal leave

Employee is unwell from COVID-19

Paid personal leave

If an employee exhausts their paid personal leave they can be granted paid miscellaneous leave

Employee is caring for a member of the employee’s immediate family or household who is unwell from COVID-19

Paid carer’s leave

If an employee exhausts their paid personal leave they can be granted paid miscellaneous leave

Employee is unwell but not from COVID-19

Paid personal leave

If an employee exhausts their paid personal leave they can be granted unpaid personal leave.

Employee is caring for children due to school closures

Employees may access working from home arrangements with their employer's approval. 

Employees who choose not to continue working will need their employer's approval to use existing leave credits such as annual leave, long service leave and, where appropriate, personal leave.

Casual employees

Leave relating to COVID-19

The Minister for Finance has signed a determination under the MOP(S) Act creating special paid leave for casual employees:

  • where the employee has to self-isolate due to COVID-19 for the medically advised period or
  • when the employee is unwell with COVID-19.

The approved leave is for the hours that a casual employee would have worked but for their self-isolation, illness or caring responsibility.

Special paid leave for casual employees is limited to circumstances relating to COVID-19.

How do I access paid leave?

You must have a casual employment agreement as per normal. You will be paid for the hours specified in the employment agreement.

If you take special paid leave, you or your office must notify MaPS in writing of the hours you are on leave to MOPSPay&Conditions@finance.gov.au.

Who approves leave and what evidence is required?

Your employing parliamentarian must approve all leave requests and will determine what evidence is required in support of a leave request.

How much leave can be granted?

For paid miscellaneous leave and special paid leave, your employing parliamentarian may grant leave for the medically advised period.

How long are these arrangements in place?

These are temporary arrangements. The Minister for Finance will review these measures in the future to ensure they are working as intended to support parliamentarians and their staff.

What should I do if I want more information about MaPS response to COVID-19?

If you have any questions please contact mpshelp@finance.gov.au.

Further information can be found by contacting your state or territory public health authority:

ACT

02 5124 9213 (during business hours)

02 9962 4155 (after hours)

NSW 1300 066 055
NT 08 8922 8044
QLD 13 43 25 84 (13HEALTH)
SA 1300 232 272
TAS 1800 671 738
VIC 1300 651 160
WA

08 9328 0553

or call your public health unit

Employee Assistance Program - EAP

If you are concerned or feel anxious about coronavirus, you or your family can talk with professional psychologists, as part of the Employee Assistance Program. This is a free and confidential service. For appointments contact Assure Services on 1800 945 145, book online at EAP Appointment Request or email info@assureprograms.com.au.

All staff emails

Circulars

Guidance and further resources

Last updated: 15 June 2020