Public servants who can work from home should, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann says, but he has stopped short of issuing a directive to override the public service commissioner.
Despite it being relatively widespread in parts of the private sector, the Australian Public Service Commission has resisted calls to issue a work-from-home directive for the public service.
Unions and Labor have urged the agency overseeing the federal bureaucracy's workforce issue a directive clarifying how and when public servants should work from home.
Senator Cormann was asked about the issue on Insiders on Sunday morning, and was told it was making many many public servants anxious.
"If they can work from home, they should work from home. But there is a lot of work that needs to be done right now by the federal public service to support the government's efforts in relation to protecting people's health," he said.
"This is going to be done through an orderly fashion based on the appropriate advice. I'm not going to provide a directive through Insiders," he said.
Mr Cormann said the commissioner would rely on appropriate advice.
"And where that can be done, and where it's appropriate, I'm sure that it will be done," he said.
The Community and Public Sector Union claims departments and agencies are actively blocking or unnecessarily delaying the implementation of remote working arrangements amid mounting anxiety among public servants about the workplace spread of COVID-19.
The Canberra Times has been told that in some agencies there is a shortage of laptops that prevents many from being able to work from home, while other organisations are applying strict criteria to approving applications for remote work.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said of workplaces in general it is "strongly encouraged to work from home where you can do that".
But the Public Service Commission said that there was "no APS-wide directive that employees should work from home or from their usual workplaces".
The APS Chief Operating Officers Committee, a sub-committee of the Secretaries Board, said that, "whether employees work in their usual office environment, a different office environment, or from home, will be a matter for the head of each agency".
According to the APSC, agencies were already taking action to increase social distancing in the workplace, such as minimising face-to-face meetings, posting notices about meeting room maximum capacity and restructuring teams to cover contingencies.
It said that remote access was standard practice across the public service and organisations were "well placed to deploy technological solutions to assist during the COVID-19 pandemic", including information security.
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.
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".
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.
We have removed our paywall from our stories about the coronavirus. This is a rapidly changing situation and we want to make sure our readers are as informed as possible. If you're looking to stay up to date on COVID-19, you can also sign up for our twice-daily digest here. If you would like to support our journalists you can subscribe here.