The Fair Work Commission has made a significant ruling on the impact of working from home on productivity. 

The ruling, based on Labor's expanded flexible work laws, supports employers' authority to bring workers back to the office post-pandemic.

In the first test of the new laws implemented in June, the commission has ruled in favour of salary packaging provider Maxxia, stating the company had “reasonable business grounds” to deny an adviser's request for exclusive remote work. 

The adviser, Charles Gregory, had sought to work 100 per cent remotely, citing caregiving duties and a medical condition.

The commission found that face-to-face interactions in the office contributed to improved productivity, training, and team culture, aligning with the company's hybrid work policy. 

This decision challenges the limits of employees' right to work from home, introduced under Labor's Secure Jobs Better Pay laws.

Commissioner Christopher Platt acknowledged Maxxia's efforts to accommodate Gregory's caregiving responsibilities but emphasised the benefits of face-to-face contact for productivity and team support. 

“I accept that it is desirable for there to be face-to-face contact within workforce teams,” he said.

“I accept that a face-to-face presence would allow for observation, interaction and (if necessary) coaching to improve Mr Gregory’s productivity and provide him with greater support.”

Maxxia, as the exclusive provider of salary packaging services for the South Australian government, cited high client expectations and the need for productivity to meet contractual obligations. 

Gregory's productivity at the time was at 50 per cent, well below the company's 85 per cent target.

The ruling, the first substantial flexible work appeal, sets a precedent for employers to refuse remote work requests based on productivity and training needs. It also shows the commission's willingness to recognise the necessity of in-office time for certain aspects of work.

However, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has downplayed the broader impact of the decision, stating it primarily applies to workers with caregiving responsibilities. 

The union says flexible work provisions are intended to support employees caring for children, not to dictate broader work-from-home arrangements.

The decision follows a recent full bench ruling outlining principles for appeals, giving the Fair Work Commission the authority to order employers to accommodate employee circumstances. 

The business community remains concerned about government involvement in such decisions, arguing that they should be left to management in consultation with workers.