Employers and employees can negotiate ways to make their workplace more flexible to their mutual benefit, provided employees receive their minimum entitlements. Flexible working arrangements are popular with employees seeking a more work life balance. Generally, an employer can refuse a flexible work request made by an employee, but certain employees have the right to request flexible working arrangements which an employer can only refuse on reasonable business grounds. Below are some steps and tips for employers to manage a request for a flexible working arrangement.
Assessing flexible working arrangements
If an employee puts in a request for a flexible working arrangement it should be in writing. The first thing the employer needs to determine is whether the employee can make a request for flexible working arrangements that can only be refused on reasonable business grounds.
Employees who have been employed within the business continuously for at least 12 months immediately prior to making the request, including casual employees if they are reasonably expected to continue working regularly in the business, can apply for flexible working arrangements.
However, under the Fair Work Act 2009 some additional conditions apply for employees to have a right to request flexible working arrangements that can only be refused on reasonable business grounds. Employees must be parents or have the responsibility for the care of a child under school age, or be carers under the Carer Recognition Act 2010; or be experiencing domestic violence, or caring for family or household members who are. Employees who have a disability, or are aged 55 or older, are also entitled to put in a request for a flexible working arrangement.
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If your employee mentions wanting to work flexibly, get them to put their request in writing. Requests for flexible working arrangements should explain what changes are being asked for (for example arrangements that include changes to days or hours of work or requests to work from home) and explain the reasons behind the requested change.
When considering the employee’s proposal, think whether their role is suited to the type of work they are proposing and whether they need to be in the workplace to perform their role effectively. How will it affect their teammates or the clients or the rest of the business? Also, consider the needs of the employee and the possible consequences if changes to their working arrangements aren’t made, as well as any business reasons for refusing the employee’s request.
If the proposal is a job share, think about how the employees will hand-over their responsibilities to each other, and how things will work if one employee leaves, or is off sick.
When managing requests for flexible working arrangements it is best practice (and necessary if the business and employee are covered by an Award for an employer to consult with the employee prior to making any decisions regarding the proposed flexible working arrangement. You should seriously consider the proposal as well as any viable alternative arrangements and try and negotiate an outcome to suit both the business and the employee.
Reasonable business grounds
When considering proposals for flexible working arrangements, an employer needs to consider whether the proposal might be rejected on any reasonable business grounds.
Reasonable business grounds can include:
the requested arrangements are too costly
other employees’ working arrangements can’t be changed to accommodate the request
it’s impractical to change other employees’ working arrangements or hire new employees to accommodate the request
the request would result in a significant loss of productivity or have a significant negative impact on customer service.
The employer should then communicate their decision regarding the flexible working arrangement to the employee, followed up by a letter in writing within 21 days of receiving the written request. The written response should make it clear whether you are approving or denying the request, and why, stating the reasons for refusal if the request is denied. You should include any viable alternative flexible working arrangements in the letter.
If you agree to a flexible working arrangement, share the arrangement with any co-workers who may be affected by the arrangement. It is recommended that you only agree to a flexible working arrangement provisionally initially and review the arrangement after a set period of time to see what the impact is on the business. Reserve the right to terminate the flexible working arrangement if the impact is negative, after consultation with the employee. Bear in mind that an employee can make more than one request for a flexible working arrangement provided they remain eligible. Make sure you review any temporary arrangement and discuss its future before the review period expires, as if it continues beyond the review date the arrangement may be considered permanent.
BrightHR allows you to store employee profiles and key documents such as contracts and handbooks securely in the cloud and determine employee access. You can upload updated policies and handbooks, set reminders and notifications of key dates, and get read receipts once your employees have accessed the latest version.
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Note that if a state or territory law provides an employee with a better entitlement to flexible working arrangements this will continue to apply regardless of any agreement made with the employer.
We can help you manage employee requests for flexible working arrangements – call us for free initial advice on 1300 651 415.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How do you manage flexible working arrangements?
- Here are a few important considerations to make:
- Is the employee eligible to make a request that can only be refused on reasonable business grounds?
- Is the request in writing with detail of the requested change and why?
- Have you met with the employee to discuss the proposed change and any viable alternatives?
- Have you confirmed to the employee in writing within 21 days whether the request is approved or denied and why?
How do you support flexible workplace arrangements?
- Put a flexible working policy in place to show support for these types of arrangements
- Provide information about flexible work to managers and employees
- Train managers on ways to manage flexible working requests and arrangements, for example in terms of performance
- Set expectation with employees regarding flexible working arrangements in terms of recording hours, handovers, and communicating key information.
- Invest in technology that supports flexible work from remote access to servers to monitoring software and tracking devices.
How do you implement flexible work arrangements?
- Respond to the employee in writing within 21 days of the request that the request for a flexible working arrangement is approved
- Include the details of the arrangement – what are the changes, how long is the arrangement for, when will it be reviewed
- Set the arrangement for a trial period initially to determine the impact on the business
- Explain how the arrangement will be monitored and reviewed and the process for further changes or termination of the arrangement if necessary
- Communicate details of the arrangement to all those within the business who may be affected by it
What happens at a meeting for discussing flexible working arrangements?
The consultation meeting is an opportunity for both parties to discuss the flexible work request and the impact of the proposed new arrangement on the business. Potential solutions for managing the impact should be considered, as well as reasonable alternative arrangements if the initial proposal terms don’t meet the business needs. The parties can negotiate to come to an arrangement that balances both of their needs.
How long does a manager have to consider a flexible working arrangement request?
An employer must give the employee a written response to the request within 21 days, stating whether the employer grants or refuses to grant the request. Employers are encouraged to genuinely discuss the request with their employee(s) and where possible, reach an agreement that meets both employer and employee needs.
Can an employer change a flexible working agreement?
An employer may be able to change or end the flexible working arrangement on reasonable business grounds if the business circumstances change and there is an option for review contained in the confirmation letter. The employer would generally be required to consult with the employee and offer any reasonable alternatives that meet both the employer’s and the employee’s needs before making any changes.
Can a flexible working agreement be temporary?
Yes, the arrangement may only the necessary for a certain time or in particular circumstances, or an employer and employee can agree to trial the arrangement for a certain period depending on how the arrangement impacts the business. The duration of the arrangement and details of the review should be set out in writing in the letter approving the request for the flexible working arrangement.