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Work-from-home win for Aussie dad ordered back to the office

The man said he was more productive when he wasn't in the office and it kicked off a David vs Goliath fight.

A Queensland public servant has won his fight to be able to work from home after arguing it was better for his health and well-being.

The COVID pandemic ushered in one of the biggest ever shifts in office behaviour as workers across the globe were forced to stay at home until the virus threat had passed. Many businesses have avoided asking workers to come back full-time and have since introduced ‘flexible’ arrangements.

Daniel Hume was in the corporate services division of Queensland Health and he applied in 2021 to work completely from home.

Worker at home next to an empty office
The worker said being at home allowed for fewer distractions and more time with his family. (Source: Getty)

Do you have a story to tell? Email me at stew.perrie@yahooinc.com

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In his submission to his manager, he claimed he was more productive at home than in an office because he believed there were fewer distractions. He also said working from home allowed him to spend time with his family.

However, Queensland Health didn’t agree with his reasoning and senior director Fiona Brewin-Brown told Hume he would be required in the office two days during one week and three days the following week.

The infrastructure analysis and reporting manager decided to take the matter to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) and said his work from home lifestyle also allowed him to exercise easier because he wasn’t caught up going to and from work, even if it was only two to three times a week.

The QIRC eventually sided with Hume. However, it ruled he would have to go into the office once a week. He quit his job the day the ruling was handed down, but Queensland Health appealed the QIRC’s decision.

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The matter was taken to Queensland’s Industrial Court, where the health body claimed Hume was required to conduct face-to-face meetings in his position and that leaving his home a few days a week would ensure he would remain active and avoid a sedentary lifestyle.

The court found this month that the QIRC’s decision was correct and Hume should have been entitled to work in the office just one day a week.

What are your rights when working from home?

So, what are your legal rights when it comes to working from home, and can your boss actually force you to return to the office?

There is a term implied in every employee's contract that requires them to follow the “lawful and reasonable” directions of their employer.

This term is implied unless your contract or applicable workplace instrument, such as a modern award, expressly states otherwise.

“A direction to return to the office will be lawful and reasonable except in extreme cases - for example, where it is contrary to a government directive or another law,” McCabes Lawyers principal Tim McDonald told Yahoo Finance.

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“This means that your boss can legally make you return to the office, provided that your employment contract or other applicable workplace instrument does not say otherwise.”

However, this could soon change. The Fair Work Commission is currently looking at whether it should be a legal entitlement to work from home.

Once the commission finishes its investigation, the findings will be passed to the federal government. Workplace Minister Tony Burke says it could affect more than 2 million Aussies who are on award wages.

“It makes sense that the Fair Work Commission is saying, ‘OK, let’s check and work through submissions and see how that fits through the awards system’,” he said.

Burke has called on employers to be open to the discussion, saying there could be a “mutual benefit” for everyone in a work-from-home scheme.