If you have been working from home due to COVID, you may have recently been told to return to work.
But returning to pre-pandemic precautions isn’t ideal for many Australians.
Here’s what to do if you want to keep working from home after the pandemic.
The benefits of working from home
Rosiel Elwyn is one of many Australians who prefer to work from home – and hopes to do so long after the COVID pandemic subsides.
Rosiel, a PhD student and young mental health researcher in Brisbane, lives with autism and complex mental illnesses, including anorexia nervosa, along with secondary health conditions including heart problems and chronic insomnia.
She says it is better for her health to work from home.
“Whenever I worked full-time, the physical strain and stress of the job made my physical and mental health deteriorate.”
Since the pandemic began, “I’ve felt better able to say when I’m feeling uncomfortable and need to study from home or hold conference calls,” she adds.
Rosiel Elwyn says her health has benefited from working from home during the pandemic and she hopes to be flexible going into the future.
Delivered: Rosiel Elwyn
Rosiel is not alone: 90 percent of Australians want to continue working from home in some way after the pandemic, according to a PwC study published in March.
Some workers just find the arrangement more convenient – they may be better able to tailor their workplace, their schedule is likely to be more flexible, and they can save time commuting (a special bonus for those who have moved away from urban workplaces during work hours). Pandemic).
But for others – including parents, carers, and people with disabilities – working from home has more serious implications.
Indeed, many in the disabled community have been calling for the right to work from home for years, pointing out that it is an accessibility issue. Many argue that normalizing home working regulations could help encourage employment for people with disabilities, pointing out that people with a disability are currently twice as likely to be unemployed or underemployed than inactive people.
If you or someone you know needs help:
If your boss wants you back to the office, do you have a right to WFH?
So what rights do you have if your boss asks you to go back to work – but that doesn’t work for you?
Under the Fair Work Act, you can apply for flexible work arrangements (which may include working from home) if you fall into one of six categories. In detail, you must:
- Be the parent or carer of a child;
- Be a caregiver for someone else;
- Be 55 years or older;
- Experience family violence (or support a family member that it is);
- Or have a disability.
You are not entitled to flexible work just because you worked successfully from home during COVID and want to continue to do so, says Giri Sivaraman, principal attorney and head of labor law at his Queensland firm.
And even if you fall into one of the six categories, employers may decline your flexible working request for business reasons. (You can go to court to enforce this right, but it’s expensive and difficult, says Mr. Sivaraman.)
You have a few additional rights when you have a disability: The Disability Discrimination Act states that employers must make reasonable adjustments to accommodate an employee’s disability. (And this legislation defines “disability” broadly – including, for example, mental illness, sensory, neurological, and learning disabilities.
Legally, an employer is required to process any request but, as with the Fair Work Act, can only decline it for compelling business reasons that may include the cost of working from home in a company or when it affects efficiency or productivity.
Submit a flexible job application
If you enjoy a flexible working model – and want to keep it that way even when life goes “back to normal” – we can help you.
Application for current WFH agreements (even without a legal basis)
If you do not fit into the categories of the Fair Work Act, you can still ask your employer for flexible working arrangements with home office. But remember, your boss doesn’t have to entertain the idea.
If you’d like to try this approach, it is best to make a clear suggestion of what your work week would be before contacting your boss.
And if your employer hesitates, you can always suggest a trial period of about six months to show your employer how the plan would work in practice, Dominique Allen, senior lecturer at Monash Business School, suggested to ABC Everyday earlier.
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Is there a cultural change in sight?
For those who want or need to work from home on a long-term basis, there is good news: the COVID pandemic appears to have changed the way managers feel about working from home.
A study published in 2020 by UNSW and CQUniversity Australia found that most managers (91.6 percent) felt that their teams’ productivity while working from home during COVID was equal to or higher than pre-pandemic levels. Almost two thirds of the 1,400 executives surveyed also stated that they would like to give more support to employees who work from home in the future.
Todd Winther, a Brisbane-based consultant for a disability consultancy who lives with cerebral palsy, hopes the pandemic could bring about a cultural shift to make people with disabilities more accessible to work.
Todd Winther hopes the cultural shift from the pandemic will provide people with disabilities with more job opportunities.
Delivered: Todd Winther
“The pandemic made employees possible [and employers] Thinking outside the box, and that thinking will give people with disabilities more opportunities, “says Todd, who works from home and explains that the physical strain of working in an office means that he cannot work full-time.
Rosiel feels supported by her job and intends to continue to work flexibly if possible after the pandemic – and she believes the pandemic has changed attitudes towards working from home for the better.
“I have the feeling that since the COVID-19 pandemic there have been fewer judgments and more understanding in the public consciousness,” she says.
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