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Do I Need to Accept Requests for Flexible Work Arrangements?

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Although anyone can request a flexible work arrangement, certain employees have a legal entitlement under the Fair Work Act 2009. This article explains:

  • what a flexible work arrangement is and its benefits; 
  • how your employee can make a request; and
  • your obligations as an employer when responding to such requests.

You should remain open to accepting flexible arrangements since they can mutually benefit you and your employee.  

What is a Flexible Work Arrangement?

A flexible work arrangement should help to achieve a work/life balance. Arrangements can take varied forms, including:

  • job sharing;
  • part-time hours;
  • varied start and finish times;
  • half days; and
  • working from home. 

The arrangement aims to reach an agreement that suits your employee and you.

Flexible work arrangements can mutually benefit your employee and your business. For example, your employee might gain greater job satisfaction, lower work-related stress and a healthier work-life balance due to flexible work options. This is because they might have more time to tend to family responsibilities and care for themselves while managing their work.

In our experience, workplaces which implement flexible work arrangements have:

  • lower levels of absenteeism;
  • increased productivity from staff; and
  • more competitive job offerings to attract and retain skilled staff.

In this sense, flexible work arrangements should suit your employee and your work environment.

Can Anyone Make a Request?

The legal right to request flexible work arrangements arises when an employee has worked for you for at least 12 months. This applies to:

  • permanent employees who have worked for your business for at least 12 months; and
  • casual employees who have worked for your business for at least 12 months and have a reasonable expectation of continuing employment on a regular basis.

There are other circumstances when an employee has a  legal right to request a flexible work arrangement arises. This is where they are a: 

  • parent;
  • carer;
  • person with a disability;
  • person aged 55 or older;
  • person experiencing violence from a member of the family; and
  • carer of someone who is experiencing violence from a member of the family. 

If your employee does not meet the above criteria, your employment agreement should be reviewed to clarify whether or not requests for flexible work arrangements can be made.

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How Do Employees Make a Request?

A formal request under the Fair Work Act 2009 must:

  • be made in writing;
  • be given to you as their employer; and
  • outline the change that the employee is seeking and the reasons for such a change,

The employee can also make suggestions about how the changes can occur so that there is minimal disruption to your business.

In some employment agreements or workplace policies, there may be a set procedure in place on how to request flexible work arrangements. If you have one, your employee should request it in line with your workplace policies.

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What Are Your Obligations as an Employer?

You should know that once you receive a request, they need to respond in writing within 21 days. The response should state whether you have granted or refused the request. 

When you receive a request for flexible working arrangements, you must remain open to the request. Accepting a request for a flexible work arrangement can foster a happy work environment. If you refuse the request, you must have reasonable business grounds to refuse the request, and you should also make these reasons clear in your response.

Some reasonable business grounds may include that:

  • the proposed change is too costly to put in place;
  • you cannot grant the proposed change, as it may require changing the work arrangements for other employees;
  • the proposed change would significantly reduce efficiency or productivity or both; or
  • the proposed change would have negative impacts on customer service.

However, you should be careful when responding to requests for flexible work arrangements. Ultimately, your inability to accommodate requests for flexible work arrangements may result in an employee leaving non-voluntarily. 

Key Takeaways 

Your employee may have the right to request a flexible work arrangement that alters their standard working arrangement. Once you receive a written request for a flexible arrangement, you must provide a written response within 21 days. If you decide to refuse the request, you must do so on ‘reasonable business grounds.’ 

If you need help responding to a request for a flexible working arrangement, our experienced employment lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 1300 544 755 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a flexible work arrangement?

A flexible work arrangement can take many forms. Generally, it is a varying work arrangement that can include job sharing, part-time hours, varied start and finish times, half days and work-from-home arrangements. 

How long can I take before I respond to a request for a flexible working arrangement?

You must respond to a request for flexible working arrangements within 21 days of receiving the request.

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