QIRC accepts employer’s right to reject employee’s request to permanently work from home

QIRC accepts employer’s right to reject employee’s request to permanently work from home

In another blow for employees seeking to remain at home to work following the pandemic, the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) has rejected a claim by a female public servant that she should be allowed to work from home permanently.

The employee, Miss H, is employed by Queensland Health as a Human Resource Advisor and acting Workplace Relations Advisor at the West Moreton Hinterland Hospital and Health Service (WMH). She is part of a team that provides human resource services to multiple locations in Ipswich and surrounding suburbs.

In January 2020, her manager approved a flexible working arrangement for Miss H, which allowed her to work remotely one day per week and undertake compressed hours over the other four days per week. Following the pandemic outbreak, she, along with other staff in her team, commenced working remotely on a full-time basis on 26 March 2020.

Since that date, she has worked wholly remotely except for three days when she attended the workplace.

On 21 September 2021, Miss H submitted a request for flexible working arrangements to work remotely from New South Wales, as her partner was starting a job, and they wished to relocate. She indicated that she wished to return to her previous arrangements, albeit from a different state.

In an email dated 11 October 2021, her manager provided a detailed response denying her request. While acknowledging that Miss H could perform many of her functions from NSW, her manager believed that there were some elements of the role that “would be difficult to do remotely”. Such elements included in-person attendance on interview panels, providing in-person assistance to clients to assist with coaching, preparing managers to undertake performance management, giving performance feedback, and assisting with facilitating discussions.

She also acknowledged Miss H’s suggestion to spend one week per month in Brisbane and being prepared to fly up on short notice. However, the manager did not believe that this was practical and would adversely impact other team members, particularly when given the short notice. As she noted, the impact on the team would be that “the spread of duties will not be fairly distributed amongst the team, potentially creating inequity”.

In summary, the manager noted,

“it would still be very difficult for you to adequately respond to a request for in-person support in a timely manner…Similarly, it is not unreasonable to anticipate that your client would, on occasion, request your attendance in person and with short notice to assist on an interview panel, provide coaching/guidance to a line manager, resolve a conflict, or facilitate a discussion, I am unable to envision a sustainable model which would allow you to commute from New South Wales on short notice to fulfill the expectation of your substantive role”.

Miss H lodged an appeal against the decision with the QIRC.

In her determination, QIRC Commissioner Samantha Pidgeon could not find fault with the decision of WMH management and confirmed the refusal of Miss H’s flexible work request.

As she noted, “I find it was fair and reasonable for (her manager) to determine that, despite the way work had been undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a range of aspects of the role that are likely to require in-person attendance”.

Further,

“If it is accepted that the employer has an expectation that human resources staff are able to provide in-person support, sometimes at short notice, it would be difficult to envisage a scenario where other employees could also have an application for 100% remote work from a location far removed from WMH approval”.

JH v State of Queensland (Queensland Health) [2021] QIRC 422

For questions about the pandemic, flexible working arrangements, or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 1300 925 529, 0417 622 178 or via email to dean.cameron@workforceadvisory.com.au

Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

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