Work from Home arrangements don’t extend to requiring employers to supply desks
The Fair Work Commission has rejected an employee’s claim that he was forced to resign because his employer refused to supply him a desk to facilitate working from home (WFH) arrangements during the current pandemic.
The case involved a `Customer Assist Specialist’, whose work required the use of a computer and a telephone to contact customers. The employee (JM) contends that he was forced to resign after being given a formal direction in July 2020 to work from home by his employer Red Energy Pty Ltd (the company).
In March 2020, in response to the onset of the pandemic, the company encouraged employees to work from home. The following month, JM’s manager told him he could continue working from the office (in the short term), but to make arrangements to work from home on a full-time basis. In May 2020, he emailed his manager claiming to be under financial pressure and requested the company to either supply him with a desk or to reimburse him for the cost of purchasing a desk. The company declined both requests.
His union then contacted the company to make similar requests on his behalf. They responded that they had already supplied all necessary equipment consistent with the guidelines produced by Worksafe Victoria including a laptop, headset, adjustable chair, ergonomic assessments, access to an occupational therapist, and online resources, but that the company would not be providing desks or reimbursement for purchasing them, as it was not fair and reasonable to do.
He then requested six weeks leave, which the company would not grant. Various exchanges occurred between the parties culminating in a meeting on Friday 17 July 2020, when his manager and the company’s HR Manager told JM that he needed to comply with the company’s direction to work from home. He replied “I understand that is your position.’
On the following Monday, he tendered his resignation via email. At the hearing, he claimed that the company failed to take reasonably practicable measures to maintain a safe working environment by expecting him to work from home without a desk. He also argued that alternately, the company could have allowed him to remain working from the office.
Deputy President Coleman rejected his arguments, stating “Mr M’s argument that he was forced to resign is entirely without merit. The simple fact is that instead of resigning, Mr M could have bought a desk. Mr M acknowledged that a desk can be purchased very cheaply and that he could have afforded to buy one”. The Deputy President also determined that the safety guidelines do not require the provision of furniture as “a matter of course”.
He also commented “that Mr M repeatedly refused to comply with what was plainly a lawful and reasonable direction from the company that he work from home…In my opinion, the company would have been entitled to dismiss Mr M for failing to follow a lawful and reasonable direction. It did not do so. However, had I concluded that the company had dismissed Mr M, I would have found that it had a valid reason for the dismissal, and that the dismissal was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable, and therefore not unfair, having regard to all the circumstances and the matters in s 387”.
The application was dismissed.
For queries about flexible work arrangements, Working from Home, or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 0417 622 178 or 1300 925 529 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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.