Flexibility: it’s one of those buzz words which is being increasingly thrown around in workplace relations, by both employers and employees. Flexibility in the workplace is when changes are made to how, when or where a person works in order to meet the needs of the individual, the business, or in some cases, both.

For some business owners, flexibility simply means longer hours to cater for clients or customers in different locations or industries, or opening on weekends or public holidays to catch the crowds. For others, it may mean bringing on casuals to supplement a permanent workforce, or asking existing staff to work overtime.

Additional rates and penalties

However your business operates, it is vital that you are compensating your staff correctly in exchange for the flexibility you are asking of them. Too many employers are unaware of the correct penalty rates payable under the applicable modern award, which may apply for evening, weekend or public holiday work. Overtime is another factor to be aware of, but many employers lack confidence in the knowledge of when and how it applies. For instance, do you know:

  • the maximum weekly and daily hours of an employee?
  • when the overtime rate increases from 150% to 200%?
  • the spread of hours outside of which overtime must automatically be paid?

As we all know, failure to pay the correct minimum entitlements under a modern award exposes a business so harsh penalties under the Fair Work Act.  When attempting to modify employees’ working patterns, it is imperative that businesses understand what they are obliged to pay employees under a modern award at all times, so that these risks are averted.

Flexible working arrangements

If it is the employees themselves who want flexibility from you, such as a reduction in hours, a later starting time or the ability to work from home, they may make a request for flexible working arrangements. Under the National Employment Standards in the Fair Work Act, the following employees have the right to request a change in their working arrangements:

  • a parent or carer of a child who is school-aged or younger;
  • a carer within the meaning of the Carer Recognition Act 2010;
  • a person with a disability;
  • a person aged 55 years or older;
  • a person who is experiencing violence from a member of the employee’s family; and
  • a person who provides care or support to a member of the employee’s household or immediate family, who requires care or support because they are experiencing violence from a member of their family.

The employee must have completed at least 12 months continuous service with you, or is a long term casual employee with a reasonable expectation of continuing employment on a regular and systematic basis.

If you receive a request for flexible working arrangements from one of these employees, then you are legally obliged to consider the request and respond in writing within 21 days to indicate whether you approve or refuse the request.

When can I refuse a request?

You may only refuse a request for flexible working arrangements from eligible employees on reasonable business grounds, such as that accommodating the request would be financially or logistically infeasible, or that it would have a significant impact on productivity or customer service, and you must set out the reasons for refusal in your response. It must be more than merely inconvenient or undesirable.

But what if an employee who doesn’t fit the above criteria makes a request? In this case, there is no legal right to have their request considered, but we recommend on the grounds of best practice to do so regardless. It is important that your employees feel valued and listened to, and in the interests of mutual flexibility, it may be worth taking a few moments to consider whether such a request could work in your business. After all, if you refuse their requests for flexibility, they’re more likely to refuse yours.

For more information on flexible working arrangements, clients should contact the HR Assured team. If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client contact us today for an informal chat.