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One of the many lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of flexible work arrangements. Whether shifting to working from home conditions to implementing job-sharing arrangements, employers have had to remain adaptable to their workers’ needs. Although anyone can request flexible work arrangements, there are certain employees who have a legal entitlement under the Fair Work Act to make a request. To provide you with an outline of flexible work arrangements, this article explains:

  • what flexible working arrangements are, and their benefits;
  • who is entitled to request  flexible working arrangements; and
  • how you should respond to a request for flexible work.

Benefits of a Flexible Working Arrangement

As suggested in its name, a flexible working arrangement will differ from business to business. More broadly, flexible work arrangements are agreements between you as an employer and your employees to change standard working arrangements. A flexible work arrangement can include:

  • flexible start and finish times;
  • compressed working hours;
  • change to a part-time or casual role;
  • job-sharing arrangements;
  • working from home or a different location;
  • taking time off in lieu of overtime payments; and
  • an increase or decrease in work hours.

You may consider flexible arrangements mutually beneficial for both you and your employee. 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 on top of managing work.

By putting in place flexible work arrangements, you might also experience:

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

In any event, flexible work arrangements should suit both your employee and your work environment.

Who is Entitled to Make a Request? 

Anyone can request a flexible work arrangement. However, some employees are legally entitled to make a request. These include:

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

In addition, the request from these workers must be because they are a:

  • person 55 or older;
  • parent of a young child;
  • carer;
  • person with disability;
  • person experiencing family violence; or
  • person who is providing support to someone experiencing family violence.

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How Should I Respond to a Request?

In order to seek protection under the Fair Work Act, an employee must make their request for flexible working conditions in writing. However, it is not unusual for employees to discuss flexible working with their employers prior to submitting their requests. This way, both you and your employee can negotiate a mutually beneficial arrangement.

[content box] An employee’s request for a flexible work arrangement should include:

  • what work conditions they want to change;
  • why they want to change their work conditions; and
  • how long the proposed changes will last.

Once you receive a request in writing, you must provide a written response within 21 days. Your response should outline whether you approve or refuse the request. 

When you receive a request for flexible working arrangements, you should remain open to the request. This is because a flexible work arrangement that suits both you and your employee can foster a happy and productive work environment. However, if you decide to refuse the request, you must do so on ‘reasonable business grounds.’ These valid grounds include if:

  • the costs for the arrangement are potentially onerous;
  • 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 have a negative impact on the business.

Ultimately, you are not obliged to agree to a request for flexible working arrangements. However, if you fail to provide a reasonable excuse for refusing the request, this could give rise to an employment dispute. In addition, you may be bound by specific state and territory legislation relating to requests for flexible work. For example, the Equal Opportunity Act in Victoria prohibits employers from unreasonably refusing to accommodate an employee’s responsibilities as a parent or carer. 

Key Takeaways

A flexible work arrangement is an agreement between you and an employee to change your employee’s standard working arrangements. Typically, an employee will negotiate the conditions of their employment, followed by a written agreement of their request. Once you receive the request, 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

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

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

What is a reasonable business ground?

If you refuse a request for flexible work, you must have a valid reason to do so. A reasonable business ground includes a wide range of valid reasons from the cost of the arrangement being too high to the request having a negative impact on your business.

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