Big Win, After Hybrid Home Ruling Give Bosses Power To Demand Back To Office Work
Company management now have the right to demand that employees come back to work in an office, despite many hybrid workers objecting to having to come back to office work after months and in some cases, years working from home, after a recent The Fair Work Commission, ruling.
The Federal Government body has recognised the productivity costs, of working from home and supported businesses, with management now able to dock pay or not treat remote workers equally as they would someone working from an office, despite Labor’s newly expanded flexible work laws.
The tribunal ruled salary packaging provider Maxxia had “reasonable business grounds” to reject a case adviser’s request to work exclusively from home.
It found that face-to-face interactions in the office helped to improve productivity, training, and general team culture.
The decision is set to impact suppliers to retailers whose staff are insisting on still working from home because “it’s suites their lifestyle” many who have already clashed with the company’s hybrid working policy, which requires staff to work the biggest percentage of their week in the office.
Several Staff who work from home and are reluctant to return to office work, claim that the cost of travel is impacting their living standards and that due to inflation pressures costs have risen.
Employers claim that during the past 18 months many of their staff have got salary increases to compensate for inflation price rises.
The Australian Financial Review claims that the ruling tests the limits of employees’ right to work from home after Labor introduced powers to appeal employers’ flexible work refusals in its Secure Jobs Better Pay laws.
Employers at the time feared the threat of forced arbitration would exacerbate the post-COVID-19 work-from-home push, which has become a source of tension for many businesses.
“This decision reinforces the benefits of face-to-face working on workplace productivity,” said Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Andrew McKellar.
Labour productivity has fallen to 2016 levels since the pandemic.
Some observers claim that union demands and Labor going along with their demands over salary increases and payments for work from home employees has led to inflation and that business is suffering because of hybrid work polices forced on businesses because of the shortage of employees.
flexible work arrangement requests must be considered on a case-by-case basis, it is encouraging that the Fair Work Commission has recognised the importance of working in the office,” McKellar said.
Under the Fair Work Act, rights to request flexible work are only available to workers who are pregnant, have parent or carer duties, have a disability, are 55 and older or experience domestic violence.
Commissioner Christopher Platt found Maxxia genuinely tried to accommodate adviser Charles Gregory’s caring duties for his young son but held the benefit of “face to face” interactions justified hybrid work.
“I accept that it is desirable for there to be face-to-face contact within workforce teams,” he said.
“I accept that a face-to-face presence would allow for observation, interaction and (if necessary) coaching to improve Mr Gregory’s productivity and provide him with greater support.”
Mr Gregory, who had worked most of his time in the job at home due to the pandemic, argued in August he needed to work 100 per cent remotely to care for his young child, who he was seeking custody of every second week.
Maxxia, which is the sole provider of salary packaging services for the South Australian government, rejected the request after citing clients’ high expectations of service and productivity, including that 99 per cent of calls are answered within three minutes and emails within two business days.
If Maxxia failed to meet their contractual obligations, they faced significant penalties under client contracts.
At the time, Mr Gregory’s productivity was just 50 per cent, well below the 85 per cent target.
The latest ruling follows a full bench decision last week that set out the principles to follow in the appeals, including that the FWC can order employers to grant requests, better respond to requests or change working arrangements to “accommodate, to any extent, the employee’s circumstances.”
The case considered in that ruling – a worker’s bid for roster changes to accommodate her insomnia – failed at the first threshold as she had not made a formal request.
Mr McKellar said the business community “remains concerned that the government’s recent changes in this space allow these issues to be ultimately decided by our workplace tribunal.”
“These decisions should be left to management in consultation with their workers,” he said.