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One of the many lessons the COVID-19 pandemic has taught business owners is the benefits of flexible work practices. Whether you allow employees to work from home or implement job-sharing arrangements, flexible work arrangements can take many forms and provide mutual benefits to your employees and your business. To learn more about flexible work arrangements, this article explains:

  • what a flexible work arrangement might look like; 
  • who is entitled to request a flexible arrangement; and 
  • some of the benefits of a flexible work arrangement.

Ultimately, if your employee makes a request for a flexible work arrangement, you should remain open to this possibility. After all, the arrangement can foster a happy and productive workplace. 

What Do Flexible Arrangements Look Like?

Flexible arrangements are, loosely speaking, anything that allows an employee to set their hours. Notably, these hours usually differ from the typical 9 am to 5 pm workday. 

Flexible working arrangements can include arrangements like:

  • staggered start and finish times;
  • part-time work;
  • job-sharing arrangements;
  • telecommuting;
  • hot desking where multiple workers use a single physical work station; 
  • compressed hours such as working longer days over four days and having a three day weekend;
  • expanded hours such as working three days over a five day week to allow flexibility for school drop off and pick up times; and
  • gradual returns to work after maternity or sick leave.

Importantly, every employee has a unique set of circumstances. As an employer, you should tailor flexible arrangements to individual situations.

Who is Entitled to Request a Flexible Work Arrangement? 

Certain employees have the right to ask for flexible work arrangements under the Fair Work Act 2009 (FWA) and the National Employment Standards (NES). These employers must have worked for your business for longer than 12 months in a permanent full or part-time capacity

Likewise, the following categories of people can ask for flexible work arrangements under the NES:

  • parents caring for children under school age;
  • parents who have children under the age of 18 with a disability;
  • carers;
  • employees with disabilities;
  • people 55 years or older; or
  • an employee experiencing (or caring for someone who has experienced) family violence.

Responding to a Request

Once you receive a request, you must provide your employee with a written response within 21 days. Moreover, your response should outline whether you approve or refuse the request. 

As mentioned above, you should remain open to the request. However, if you decide to refuse the request, you must do so on ‘reasonable business grounds.’ Reasonable business grounds include that:

  • it would be too costly to implement the arrangement;
  • your business lacks the capacity to accommodate the request;
  • it would be impractical to change the working conditions of others to accommodate the request; or
  • the request is likely to result in loss of productivity or negatively impact the business.

If you fail to provide a reasonable excuse for refusing your employee’s request, this could result in a dispute. In addition, you may have obligations under specific state and territory legislation relating to flexible work arrangements. 

For example, the Equal Opportunity Act in Victoria prohibits employers from unreasonably refusing to accommodate an employee’s responsibilities as a parent or carer. If you are unsure about your obligations, get in touch with an employment lawyer.

Do Flexible Arrangements Work?

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, flexible work promotes both women’s and men’s workforce participation, employee satisfaction and productivity. Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the way people worked, flexible work arrangements are associated with:

  • greater employee wellbeing;
  • reduced exhaustion, burnout, and fatigue;
  • improved organisational productivity;
  • increased job satisfaction;
  • increased employee retention; 
  • more competitive job offerings to attract skilled staff;
  • an increased proportion of women in leadership roles; and
  • future-proofing the workplace for any potential disruptions. 

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However, as noted by the Power of Flexibility Report, flexible work arrangements are most beneficial when you: 

  1. Make flexible arrangements the standard for every role.
  2. Encourage both women and men take up flexible arrangements
  3. Ensure your workplace fosters a healthy culture that supports flexible arrangements.
  4. Ensure that all members of the workplace are committed to implementing flexible arrangements, noting this includes flexible policies and new technologies which will allow remote work and telecommuting.

In this sense, flexible work arrangements are most effective when they become normalised in your workplace. 

Key Takeaways 

In short, flexible work arrangements are an agreement between an employer and employee to change standard working arrangements. Whilst a flexible working arrangement will differ from business to business, it can include:

  • working from home arrangements;
  • job-sharing; and 
  • flexible start and finish times. 

By law, an employee who has worked for your business for longer than 12 months in a permanent full or part-time capacity is entitled to request for a flexible work arrangement. You must respond to their request within 21 days of receiving the request.

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?

Flexible work arrangements are an agreement between an employer and employee to change standard working arrangements. A flexible work arrangement can include working from home arrangements, job-sharing and flexible start and finish times.

Can I refuse a request?

You can only refuse a request if you have a reasonable business ground. For example, it would be too costly to put the arrangement in place, or your business lacks the capacity to accommodate the request.

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