When is it okay to refuse a request to work from home?
When is it okay to refuse a request to work from home?

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When is it okay to refuse a request to work from home?
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The issue of refusing work from home requests was looked at recently by the Fair Work Commission in a dispute about a request for flexible working arrangements. This issue is becoming increasingly common as flexible work arrangements gain popularity.


The employee asked to work 100% of his full-time hours from home. He made the request on the basis that he was seeking a custody arrangement for his school-aged child. In turn, he would care for the child every second week. He also said he needed it because of his inflammatory bowel disease (although that wasn’t accepted by the Commission).

The employer felt the employee needed to spend some of his time in the office. This was because he was not meeting productivity targets and needed support to improve. Also, because he was a long tenured employee, the employer needed him to contribute to team culture, training and discussions for the benefit of employees with lesser tenure, and this could be done more effectively from the office.

The employer proposed allowing him to work 20% in the office until the end of September. In October, this would increase to 40%. It also offered to allocate his office days to the week that he would not have custody of his child. Further, he was given the option to vary his start, finish and meal times to allow drop off and collection of his son from school.

Sounds reasonable!

What did the commission find?

The Commission noted that the employee’s contract required him to work in the office. While he had been working from home due to the pandemic, the Commission noted that the worst of the pandemic appears to have passed. The employer had a contractual right to require employees to return to the office.

Further, certain employees have a right under the Fair Work Act to request flexible working arrangements, and this employee qualified to do so.

Employers can refuse a request if there are reasonable business grounds to do so. So the Commission needed to determine whether that was the case.

The Commission accepted that:

  • it was desirable for there to be face-to-face contact within the employer’s workforce team
  • a face-to-face presence would allow for observation, interaction and (if necessary) coaching to improve the employee’s productivity and provide him with greater support
  • the employee’s knowledge and experience could be more easily accessed by less experienced team members on a face to face basis

Based on this it determined that there were reasonable business grounds to refuse the request. The commission declined to make an order.

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These cases will always be determined on a case-by-case basis. The finding does give us some idea of how the Commission will approach them. It illustrates how the Commission will look at the whole picture and determine what is reasonable for that particular situation.

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