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remote work

Return to the office policies are gaining ground

How are employees reacting to reasonable adjustments made by employers when they simply don’t wish to return

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Remote work had been allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The employer claimed it had genuinely tried to accommodate Gregory’s condition.
The FWC denied Gregory’s application for fully remote work.

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In a recent dispute over flexible working arrangements, an employer is standing firm on its decision to decline a worker’s request for complete remote work, despite the employee’s health condition and parenting responsibilities.

On September 1, 2023, Charles Gregory lodged a complaint with the Commission, contesting his employer’s refusal to permit him to work entirely from home. Gregory is employed by Maxxia Pty Ltd, a company specialising in salary packaging advice and assistance. While his role primarily involves providing advice and managing cases, he had recently been seconded to a support coach position. Although his full-time contract stipulates on-site attendance, remote work had been allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Records indicate that the employer has a hybrid working policy mandating employees to spend at least 40% of their work hours in the office.

On August 17, 2023, Gregory submitted a request for a flexible working arrangement, aiming to work 100% of his full-time hours remotely. His application was grounded in parenting responsibilities and supported by a doctor’s letter stating that he suffered from inflammatory bowel disease.

Regarding his parenting responsibilities, Gregory explained that he was “the parent of a child who is of school age or younger and is seeking a custody arrangement such that he cares for the child every second week.” The employer suggested a phased return to the office, but Gregory insisted on remote work. The employer took into account factors such as client expectations, financial penalties for contractual obligations, Gregory’s productivity, his specialised role, and contributions to the team.

The employer proposed a compromise, allowing Gregory to work 20% in the office until the end of September, followed by 40% in the office from 2 October 2023, with office days aligned with the weeks he did not have custody of his son. Additionally, it offered to relocate his work desk closer to the office toilet, noting he was one of only two men on the floor.

Despite these adjustments, Gregory rejected the proposal, seeking further medical evidence. His doctor provided an email reiterating the worker’s condition.

The employer claimed it had genuinely tried to accommodate Gregory’s condition and parental responsibilities but rejected the 100% remote work request on reasonable business grounds.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) acknowledged Gregory’s concerns about access to toileting facilities due to his medical condition but deemed it insufficient to be classified as a disability. It also noted the employer’s offer to allow remote work during weeks when Gregory was the primary caregiver and deemed the employer’s reasons for refusal as “based on reasonable business grounds.” Consequently, the FWC denied Gregory’s application for fully remote work.

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