Off the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers all over the world have struggled to get their employees back in the office. For many businesses, having hybrid or fully remote working arrangements has boosted their workforce morale, productivity and been an overall very positive move for them, however, not all businesses have felt the same with many feeling like they are losing productivity and damaging the culture of the business by allowing many to WFH.
Up until now, employers have found it hard to find that balance between employee preferences and business needs, however, the ruling of a recent Fair Work case has highlighted the importance of face-to-face contact when it comes to productivity and employee culture.
In this case, the employer had a requirement for their employees to work 40% of their time in the office, to which the employee in question had requested to work from home full time, citing medical reasons and caring for his son (both valid reasons to request flexible working arrangements.) So, what is the law, and why did the Fair Work Commission (FWC) decide to side with the employer in this case?
Recently, the changes to flexible working arrangements meant that anyone from the following categories can request flexible working arrangements if they have worked with the employer for 12 months:
are the parent, or have responsibility for the care, of a child who is school aged or younger
are a carer (under the Carer Recognition Act 2010)
are a person with disability
are 55 or older
are experiencing family and domestic violence, or
provide care or support to an immediate family or household member who is experiencing family and domestic violence.
However, an employer can refuse the request on reasonable business grounds if they have discussed with the employee and genuinely tried to reach a compromise or alternative arrangements to accommodate their specific circumstances. Reasonable business grounds includes the request being too costly, other employee arrangements being unable to accommodate the request, it would be impractical or result in hiring new employees to accommodate the request OR the request is likely to result in a loss of productivity or have negative implications on customer service.
How does this ruling help employers? In this case, the FWC sided with the employer, despite the employee having reasonable and valid grounds to request the arrangement, which has changed the narrative for WFH requests.
The ruling helps highlight the importance of face-to-face when it comes to both productivity and workplace culture, while providing guidance on how to appropriately refuse a request in such circumstances.
If you have employees that are requesting WFH or other flexible working arrangements but aren’t sure how to handle these, or what to consider when allowing or refusing a request, reach out to us and we would love to guide you through the process.