How Flexible Does an Employer Have to be?

Much has been made of the bullying amendments introduced in the Fair Work amendments Act 2013 (which don’t commence until 1 January 2014) but not a lot of coverage has been given to the changes to flexible work arrangements also included in the amendments which were live as of 1 August 2013.

Employers who come under the jurisdiction of Fair Work must now consider the application of these changes which broaden the scope for more employees to apply for flexible work hours.

Previously the flexible work arrangements only applied to parents who had responsibility for the care of a child who is under school age or under 18 and has a disability.

This has now changed and the categories of employees who may now access this option has expanded significantly to include-
(a) a parent, or (someone who) has responsibility for the care, of a child who is of school age or younger;
(b) a carer (within the meaning of the Carer Recognition Act 2010);
(c) a employee (who) has a disability;
(d) an employee (who) is 55 or older;
(e) an employee (who) is experiencing violence from a member of the employee’s family;
(f) an employee (who) provides care or support to a member of the employee’s immediate family, or a member of the employee’s household, who requires care or support because the member is experiencing violence from the member’s family.

In addition the new legislation makes it absolutely clear that employees who are returning to work after the birth or adoption of a child may request to work part time to assist the employee to care for the child.

The requirements about when an employee can apply for flexible work arrangements are the same, the process for applying for it (in writing etc) and the manner of response by the employer are still the same.

The only other difference or extra information provided is that the Act now provides examples as to when an employer may refuse the employees request based on reasonable business grounds, whereas previously the Act was silent on what constituted reasonable business grounds.

I think the examples are useful to provide a framework within which an employer can make a decision provided they are genuine in their reasons and don’t’ just choose one of the “outs” to justify their decision not to grant the flexible arrangements.