The public service commission is under pressure to give Commonwealth employers clear directions about work from home arrangements for staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unions and Labor have urged that the agency overseeing the federal bureaucracy's workforce issue a directive clarifying how and when public servants should work from home.
Their calls follow reports of anxiety among public servants about having to work from departmental and agency offices despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison encouraging people to avoid the coronavirus by working from home when possible.
The Australian Public Service Commission has resisted calls to issue a work-from-home directive for the public service.
A union for federal public servants on Friday described a "workplace health and safety crisis" unfolding in parts of the public service as employers kept some staff members working in agency offices.
Professionals Australia, the union representing Commonwealth scientists and engineers, said the APS commission was failing a major test and not ensuring staff had a safe place to work.
The union's ACT branch director Dale Beasley said there was an absence of clear instructions from the commission, or agency heads, regarding working from home.
Mr Beasley said there were areas of "best practice" and some agencies had moved quickly to let staff work from home.
"It's the examples of work groups which are getting it dangerously wrong which concern us," he said.
While there were mission critical roles in many departments that needed to be performed in the workplace, for the majority of staff, it was time for the APS to send people home, Mr Beasley said.
"This is a workplace health and safety crisis and the APS continues to expose large parts of the work force to unnecessary risk."
Opposition public service spokeswoman Katy Gallagher has called for the Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott to "take charge" and issue a specific directive to all agencies clarifying work from home arrangements.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Senator Gallagher said although it was unavoidable for some public servants to attend workplaces, working from home should be allowed and actively encouraged where possible.
"The health and wellbeing of public servants should be no different to that of any other worker in Australia," she said.
"It is essential that the APS leads the way in implementing the advice of the health experts about minimising social contact."
The senator's comments came amid concerns raised by some staff at Defence Housing Australia that they were being prevented from working from home by their managers despite being equipped to do so.
But a DHA spokesperson said the majority of its employees were working from home, with the exception of "critical staff that are unable to perform their duties outside the office environment".
It said additional health and safety measures had been put in place for office-based staff.
The Australian Taxation Office told staff on Friday they were likely to notice more people starting to work from home in coming days.
ATO chief operating officer Jacqui Curtis and the ATO COVID-19 Response Committee's Jeremy Geale told staff in an email they had asked all managers "to consider what is possible for their teams and then enact those plans in collaboration with their team members".
"Where it is operationally possible for you to perform your role from home, and you would like to, we are encouraging managers to support and progress these arrangements as swiftly as possible," the email said.
However, it said staff may also be required to support other teams and roles in ways that involved returning to the workplace.
The body coordinating the APS operational response to COVID-19 has advised that whether staff work in their usual offices, or from home, would be a matter for the head of each agency.
The APS chief operating officers committee said all agencies were adhering to social distancing requirements and following Health Department advice.
The public service was pivoting its focus to the COVID-19 response, it said.
"That's why every public servant who can work, should work to support our community," the committee said.
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