With the right approach, flexible working arrangements can help your employees achieve a work-life balance and benefit your business.
What are flexible working arrangements?
Flexible working arrangements can include:
- Flexible location – for example, working from home or somewhere else more convenient, instead of the office (this is also known as teleworking).
- Flexible hours – for example, changing start or finish times to accommodate personal or family commitments.
- Flexible patterns – for example, working longer days to provide for a shorter working week.
- Flexible rostering – for example, split shifts.
Other flexible arrangements you may have come across include:
- Job sharing – where two or more employees share one full-time position.
- Graduated return to work – where an employee returns to work part-time and gradually builds up to full-time work by an agreed date (for example, after parental leave or extended sick leave).
- Purchased leave or ’48/52 leave’ – where employees take an extra four weeks’ leave per year by getting less pay (getting 48 weeks’ salary paid over 52 weeks).
For tips on helping your staff balance work and family commitments, read creating a family-friendly workplace.
Benefits of flexible working arrangements
It’s always a good idea to make your workplace as employee-friendly as possible.
Giving your employees the flexibility they want, while still ensuring your business needs are met, can help you create a positive workplace.
By improving work-life balance for your staff, flexible arrangements can help you:
- improve staff morale, motivation and productivity
- be an employer of choice
- reduce staff turnover and absenteeism
- reduce staffing costs.
Have any of your employees worked for you for at least 12 months continuously?
Have any of your casual employees worked for you regularly and systematically over a period of at least 12 months, and are likely to continue working regularly for you?
If yes, they have a right to ask for flexible working arrangements if they meet one of the following:
- They are a parent of a child who is school age or younger.
- They have responsibility to care for a child who is school age or younger.
- They have carer responsibilities.
- They have a disability.
- They are 55 or older.
- They are experiencing family or domestic violence.
- They are supporting an immediate family or household member who requires support because of family or domestic violence.
They must ask you in writing, give details of the proposed change and list the reasons for why they want it.
Where do these rights come from?
These rights come from the National Employment Standards in the Fair Work Act 2009, and apply to everyone covered by the national workplace relations system (most employers and employees in Australia).
It’s important to remember that entitlements under state or territory laws may provide additional flexibility-related rights.
You must respond in writing
If your employee requests flexible working arrangements in accordance with the Fair Work Act 2009, you must respond to their request in writing within 21 days, telling them whether you grant or refuse their request.
Agreeing to requests
It’s important to remember that if you agree to a change in working arrangements, you must still provide your employee with all of their entitlements under their modern award or enterprise agreement.
For example, if your employee is going to start their shift earlier under the new arrangements, and a penalty rate applies for the first hour of that shift, you must pay them the penalty rate for that hour.
You can only refuse these requests on ‘reasonable business grounds’. For example, when the requested working arrangements:
- are too expensive for you to implement
- would result in a significant loss in efficiency or productivity
- are likely to reduce the level of customer service your business provides.
It may also be reasonable to refuse if:
- it would be impractical to change the working arrangements of other employees, or recruit new employees, to accommodate the requested working arrangements
- it isn’t possible to change the work arrangements of other affected employees to accommodate the request.
If you cannot agree to a request for these types of reasons, think about how you could compromise or offer an alternative to your employee.
For example, your employee may want to start their shift at noon so they can study in the morning. If mornings are busy periods in your business, see if they would be willing to start their shift earlier, so they have the afternoon to study.
Managing flexible working arrangements
To manage arrangements effectively:
- Develop a clear policy on flexible working arrangements and keep it up to date.
- Make sure all staff are aware of the policy and their rights.
- Stay informed about your rights and responsibilities.
- Encourage all staff to talk to you about flexible arrangements – not just those who have a right to apply under the National Employment Standards.
- Carefully consider the needs of your business and how you can meet them while accommodating your employees’ needs for flexibility.
- Respond to all employee requests for a change in working arrangements in a timely manner (in writing within 21 days if your employee has a right to request under the Fair Work Act 2009).
- Discuss requests with your employees so you fully understand their situation.
- Consider alternatives if you can’t fully meet their request.
- If you are refusing a request, explain your reasons clearly.
Questions about flexible working arrangements?
The Fair Work Ombudsman is your first port of call for questions about flexible working arrangements and workplace laws. Their services are free to all businesses in Australia.