flexible work options

While Australians now work fewer hours than before, many are struggling to achieve a good work-life balance, says a 2017 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). When their preferences are not aligned with their working hours, they become less satisfied with their job and their mental health suffers.

In Australia, 44% of respondents agreed that a good work-life balance was an important attribute that they sought in an employer, while flexible work arrangements was seen for 41% a deciding factor when changing jobs, according to the ‘2017 Randstad Employer Brand Research’ global report.

There is still a disconnect between what candidates seek in an employer and what employers are perceived to offer: work-life balance ranks as the most valuable factor when measuring employer attractiveness, but employers are generally rated to value good work-life balance much lower – only ranking it as their ninth most important aspect.  

Traditionally, Australia has had a low demand for flexible labour. However, with the advances in technology and innovation, as well as the increased demand for a better work-life balance, employers need to consider a more flexible approach when it comes to employees, with fixed-term contracts, agency workers, and self-employed workers.  

right to request flexible working

Under the Fair Work Act 2009, an employee has the right to request flexible work options. These options include: starting and finishing times, part-time work or job sharing, working more hours over fewer days, time off instead of overtime payments, changing the location of work or the need to travel to work, e.g. working from home.

who’s eligible for flexible work options?

Employees who have worked continuously for the employer for at least 12 months can request flexible working arrangements if they:

are a parent, or has responsibility for the care of a child who is school aged or younger

are disabled

are 55 or older

are defined as a carer under the Carer Recognition Act 2010

experience family or domestic violence

provide care or support to a member of their household or immediate family because of family or domestic violence.

Casual employees can also make a request if they:

have been employed by the employer on a regular and systematic basis for a sequence of periods of employment of at least 12 months

there are areas on able expectation of continuing employment by the employer on a regular and systematic basis.

Some states and territories have flexible working entitlements that are more beneficial than federal law listed above. If this is the case, then it is the territory/state law that applies.

what are the employer’s options?

The National Employment Standards (NES) doesn’t require an employer to agree to a request for flexible working arrangements, but refusal must be made on reasonable business grounds. Employers and employees are encouraged to discuss their working arrangements and, where possible, reach an agreement that balances both their needs.

Factors that may be relevant in defining reasonable business grounds could include:

the effect on the workplace and the employer’s business of approving the request, including the financial impact of doing so and the impact on efficiency, productivity and customer service

the inability to organise work among existing staff

the inability to recruit a replacement employee

the practicality or otherwise of the arrangements that may need to be put in place to accommodate the employee’s request.

Employers must give a written response within 21 days stating whether the request is granted or refused. If the request is not granted, the response must include the reason for refusal.

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