In brief 3 min read
The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (Commission) has upheld Queensland Health's decision to refuse an employee's request for a flexible working arrangement (FWA) to work remotely from another state, finding it was fair and reasonable for the employer to deny the request.1
- Employers can reasonably refuse an application from an employee to work primarily from home where an employee's role requires the provision of face-to-face services. Further, it is not unreasonable for employers to anticipate that employees will transition towards spending more time in the workplace.
- Employers should carefully document the reasons for refusing a FWA request.
Ms Hair was employed as HR Advisor and acting Workplace Relations Advisor at the West Moreton Hinterland Hospital and Health Service (WMH) based in Queensland. In January 2020, Ms Hair's FWA request to work from home one day per week was approved. In March 2020, Ms Hair commenced working remotely on a full-time basis in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She continued to work from home for 18 months, and only attended the workplace on three occasions.
In September 2021, Ms Hair submitted a FWA request to work remotely from New South Wales, as her partner was starting a new job there. The request was made under a workplace FWA policy (Policy).
In October 2021, WMH wrote to Ms Hair denying her request. The detailed letter included consideration of a range of matters including the principle of flexibility, and nature and location of work. The Policy allowed employees to appeal a decision to the Commission. Ms Hair exercised this option.
Under the Public Service Act 2008 (Qld), the Commission was required to consider whether WMH's decision to deny Ms Hair's request for a FWA was fair and reasonable.
The Commission found it was fair and reasonable, for reasons including:
- WMH had anticipated that there would be a transition from the remote working arrangements that were in place during COVID-19. It was not unreasonable for WMH to take this into account when considering applications involving employees who had worked remotely for the majority of the time;
- it was reasonable for WMH to take into account that it would be difficult for Ms Hair to provide in-person support in a timely manner, given she would need to fly from Sydney to Queensland;
- it was not unreasonable for WMH to seek to return some human resources services to an in-person model, as there are times when the most appropriate, productive or preferred way of providing human resources advice and support is face-to-face; and
- it was fair for WMH to consider the implications of approving a wholly remote working arrangement, including the impact on team members if Ms Hair was unable to attend to a meeting at short notice.
Hair v State of Queensland (Queensland Health)  QIRC 422