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Working from home refusal upheld

Hair v State of Queensland (Queensland Health) (2021)

The Queensland Government employed Ms Hair as an HR adviser at the West Moreton Hinterland Hospital and Health Service (Queensland Health).

During the pandemic, Ms Hair worked from home for 18 months and only attended the workplace on three occasions. When Ms Hair’s partner secured a job in NSW, Ms Hair requested that she be allowed to continue to work remotely from NSW.

Queensland Health refused Ms Hair’s request, providing detailed reasons for the refusal. Ms Hair appealed the decision to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC).

The Verdict

The QIRC found it was fair and reasonable for Queensland Health to refuse Ms Hair’s request to work remotely from NSW given:

·         Queensland Health anticipated that there would be a transition back to some face-to-face work from the remote COVID-19 work arrangements;

·         there were times when an in-person model of work was the most appropriate, productive or preferred way to provide HR services;

·         Ms Hair would be unable to provide timely in-person support from NSW to staff in Queensland; and

·         Ms Hair would be unable to attend in-person meetings at short notice.

The Lessons

As the COVID-19 pandemic situation improves, there are likely to be more employers that request employees spend more time physically in the workplace. This case demonstrates that there are circumstances in which working from home arrangements can be reasonably refused. However, the alternatives should be carefully explored, not dismissed out of hand. You should consider the particular employee’s position, tasks and proposal.

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