Work from home rules Australia: WFH could become legal right under FWC review

Millions of Australians could have the right to work from home under major changes being considered by the nation’s employer watchdog, which could form the basis for new workplace laws.

The Fair Work Commission is looking into making flexible work arrangements a legal entitlement just one month after new laws passed allowing workers to ignore calls and texts from their bosses after hours.

About 2.2 million workers on award wages could be impacted by the findings of its review, which is likely to infuriate business groups opposed to the federal government’s sweeping workplace reforms.

The review will make recommendations to the federal government, who will then consider the findings and put changes to legislation to parliament accordingly.

Currently, about 37 per cent of Australians currently work from home on a regular basis, according to the most recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, down slightly from 2022 levels.

Workers do not currently have a general right or entitlement to work from home in Australia – but can request to work from home under certain conditions if they have been with their employer for at least 12 months.

Research from the Melbourne Institute shows that the majority of Australian workers want the right to work from home at least partially, with 60 per cent happy with a hybrid work arrangement where they work from both home and in the office.

A discussion paper released by Fair Work in January pointed to evidence showing that remote work did not impede on overall productivity and gave carers and parents more time to juggle the demands of home and work.

The paper said remote working did raise many challenges for employers – however – including making it more difficult for bosses to facilitate on-the-job mentoring and initiate “spontaneous collaboration.”

“Improved flexibility as to when and where people work may also create ambiguity as to when workers can disconnect from work, which can impact on wellbeing,” it said.

Liberal Senator James Paterson argued that it should be up to workers and businesses to make arrangements as to whether someone should work from home full-time

“For employers and employees to work together, there are some types of work where working from home works really well for both the business and employees – and not the type of work that because of the nature of it is inherent that you turn up to the office,” he said.

“And really, that shouldn’t be up to the government to decide that.”

As Fair Work engages businesses and unions for their views on remote working as part of its awards review, the latest reforms passed in the second wave of the government’s workplace changes – including laws giving workers the ‘right to disconnect’ – will begin to sink in.

The most recent changes passed in February include giving casuals working full-time the option to transition to permanent work and establishing minimum pay rates and work standards for gig economy workers.

Wage theft will also be criminalised in Australia starting January 1 2025.

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