New rules regarding requests for flexible work arrangements in all modern awards are set to be introduced on 1 December 2018 following a ruling from the Australian Fair Work Commission earlier this year. The changes will require employers to make a genuine attempt to reach an agreement on flexible work arrangements and provide detailed reasons for refusals.
Under the ruling, an employer will need to discuss a flexible work request with the employee to try to reach an agreement about a change to their working arrangements – with requests only able to be refused on reasonable business grounds.
This discussion must consider:
- The needs of the employee arising from their circumstances;
- The consequences for the employee if changes in working arrangements are not made; and,
- Any reasonable business grounds for refusing the request.
Workers will also be able to legally challenge an employer’s decision if they fail to genuinely try to reach a flexible woking agreement. If a request is refused, the employer must provide a detailed, written explanation as to why tit was refused within 21 days of the request.
Employsure senior employment relations adviser, Michael Wilkinson, said that while workers wouldn’t have an uninhibited right to their flexible work request, the new clause would require employers to detail any alternative arrangements they could provide, and would let workers dispute whether employers have correctly followed the process.
“Let’s say you approach your boss with a request to work from home two days per week. Your boss can refuse your request however they need to justify the reasonable business grounds, then state whether alternative options or a counteroffer is available.”
Wilkinson said it was common for employers to reject flexible requests because it was simply too costly to implement due to things like cost of equipment, and lost productivity, but that employers needed to be aware of minimum engagement periods.
“If an employee asks his or her boss to leave early twice a week for family commitments, employers need to consider how they will fill the gap. Is it necessary to fill the gap? Will significant change be required for the gap? If the gap needs to be filled, how much will it cost the business to fill such as advertising and training?”
“Good businesses generally take these steps anyway, on the basis they value their staff. For those businesses that aren’t currently flexible, they will need to bring their policies and practices into line from 1 December 2018.”
Wilkinson said the news rules required employees to play their part too, and that if a flexible work request was granted, employers were still within their rights to ensure employee performance wasn’t compromised.
More information on flexible working arrangements on employer responsibilities can be found on the Fair Work Commission website.