The Labour Government has proposed changes to legislation around requests for flexible working arrangements but insists that employers will still have the right to refuse these requests on reasonable grounds.
What’s on the horizon?
The proposed changes will affect parents returning to work after parental leave, meaning they could also request increased flexibility under the Fair Work Act.
This also means that employees with a disability, those over the age of 55, carers, or victims of domestic violence would also have the right to request flexible working hours extend to them.
In addition, protection from roster changes for employees under certain awards and EAs is expected to be announced this week. Prime Minister Julia Gillard stated: “People make all sorts of arrangements for work, knowing what their roster is, building their child care around it, and when rosters change that can be very difficult.”
What’s the current situation?
Currently parents are entitled to the right to ask for flexible working arrangements as part of the National Employment Standards.
As of January 1, 2011, Australian employees who become parents are entitled to 18 weeks of paid parental leave, amounting to at least $570 per week. The law covers both parents of the infant and is applicable to full-time, part-time, seasonal, self-employed and contractual workers.
What’s the benefit of increased flexibility?
There is significant evidence that flexible work optimises resources and productivity. Diversity Council Australia CEO, Nareen Young said: “Extending the right to all employees makes it simpler for employers to manage, can encourage innovation in work organisation, and can increase workplace acceptance that men as well as women need to be supported to be working carers”.
Prime Minister Gillard noted that 80 percent of current right to requests are satisfactorily resolved, but extending these rights will inevitably lead to more requests and this raises questions around the efficacy of the proposed changes.
It is a likely reality that there simply is not a viable solution to the 20 percent of unresolved requests, with or without further government regulation. Also if the legislation is intended to improve flexible employment options for employees, is it fair that the other side of the proposal is removing flexibility from employers regarding shift changes?
Notice and penalty provisions for shift changes are already heavily regulated.
What do you need to do?
As it stands, it is unclear specifically what grounds are acceptable for refusing requests. Once the changes have been announced, it is recommended that you seek advice as to the parameters. You may also need to ensure the Fair Work Information Statement you are required to provide to each employee is up to date with the new information, as well as any Enterprise Agreements and employment contracts that specifically deal with flexible working arrangements.