Flexible Working Arrangements

In-depth exploration of flexible work in Australia covering legal rights, organisational benefits, and policy guidelines.

What are flexible working arrangements?

In today’s dynamic work environment, flexible working arrangements have become increasingly significant. These arrangements provide employees with the opportunity to modify their work schedule, pattern, or location, aligning their professional responsibilities with personal needs and lifestyle. For employers, understanding and effectively managing these arrangements is key to fostering a supportive and adaptable workplace.

Flexible working arrangements can range from changes in work hours to modifications in the work location, such as working from home. They are not only beneficial for employee satisfaction and work-life balance but also offer advantages to businesses, including increased productivity and employee retention.

Flexible working arrangements in Australia

In Australia, the Fair Work Act 2009 outlines specific requirements for both employers and employees regarding flexible working arrangements. When an eligible employee requests such an arrangement, it should be made in writing, detailing the desired changes, such as alterations to working days or hours, or a shift to working from home, along with the reasons for these changes.

It's important for employers to engage in discussions with the employee making the request. For those covered by an award, this includes a formal consultation process aimed at reaching an agreement on changes to the employee’s working conditions. These meetings are critical as they provide a platform for both parties to explore the impact of the proposed arrangement on the business and discuss potential solutions. The goal is to negotiate an arrangement that meets the needs of both the employee and the employer.

Employers are required to respond in writing to a request for a flexible working arrangement within 21 days, clearly stating whether the request is approved or refused, along with the reasons for the decision. In cases where the original request cannot be accommodated, employers should consider and propose alternative working arrangements.

Broadening the scope of flexible work policies to encompass all employees, not just those who are entitled to request due to their specific circumstances, can significantly enhance the work culture. Such inclusive policies provide clarity and assurance to all employees about the opportunities for managing their work-life balance, contributing positively to the overall morale and efficiency of the business. This proactive approach in fostering flexibility can also enhance the attractiveness of the business as a modern and empathetic employer.

Employee right to request flexible working

Under the Fair Work Act 2009, the National Employment Standards (NES) set out the minimum employment standards for employees in the national workplace relations system, including the right for certain eligible employees to request flexible working arrangements. Employers are required to accommodate these requests unless there are reasonable business grounds for refusal.

Originally, the Fair Work Act 2009 permitted only employees who were parents or responsible for a child under school age, or a child with a disability, to request flexible working arrangements. However, since July 2013, the eligibility criteria have expanded to include a broader group of employees. This broader range includes those who have been employed continuously for at least 12 months before making the request, encompassing casual employees who have a reasonable expectation of continued regular work.

The categories of employees eligible to apply for flexible working arrangements now include:

  • Parents, or those caring for a child who is school-aged or younger.
  • Individuals who are carers, as defined in the Carer Recognition Act 2010.
  • Employees aged 55 years or older.
  • Employees with a disability.
  • Those experiencing family or domestic violence.
  • Employees providing care or support to an immediate family member who is experiencing such circumstances.

When a request for flexible working arrangements is received from an eligible employee, employers must respond in writing within 21 days stating whether the request is approved or denied. Refusing a request is permitted only on reasonable business grounds, and the reasons for denial must be clearly outlined in the written response. This aspect of the NES ensures that employees have the opportunity to seek a better balance between their work and personal life, while also allowing employers to consider the feasibility of such arrangements within the context of their business operations.

Benefits of flexible working arrangements

Adopting flexible working conditions can offer significant benefits for both employees and employers, as evidenced by research and practical experiences across various organisations. A study by the University of Sydney Business School, which examined eight organisations with an "All Roles Flex" policy, highlighted these widespread advantages.

The research found that flexibility in work arrangements is a major factor in attracting employees from diverse age groups, genders, and employment types. Tony Roderick, a researcher and lab fellow involved in the study, noted that organisations are increasingly recognising the importance of flexibility as a key driver in attracting and retaining talent. This shift towards flexible work options is seen as an effective strategy to manage turnover costs and retain valuable employees.

The emphasis on flexibility as a pull-factor has prompted various positive responses from employers. They are keen to adopt these practices not only to keep their best employees but also to enhance overall workplace productivity and morale. The benefits of flexible working arrangements extend beyond employee satisfaction, contributing to improved retention rates and providing a competitive edge in the labor market.

In summary, the move towards flexible working arrangements, as supported by research and organisational practices, underscores its effectiveness in fostering a more productive, satisfied, and stable workforce. This approach is increasingly viewed as a crucial aspect of modern employment practices, beneficial for both the individual and the organisation.

Types of flexible working arrangements

Flexible working arrangements, when tailored to meet both the needs of the employees and the operational requirements of the business, can significantly enhance work-life balance. These arrangements, while ensuring that employees receive their minimum entitlements, can take various forms, fostering a more adaptable and responsive work environment.

Eligible employees may request changes in their working hours, patterns, or locations. Such changes could include adjustments to the days or hours of work, modifications to start and finish times, or the implementation of flexible rostering, like split or broken shifts. Job sharing is another option that provides flexibility while maintaining productivity.

Other types of flexible arrangements might involve working from home or remote work, enabling employees to work outside the traditional office setting. Compressed hours allow employees to work more hours over fewer days, offering extended periods of time off. Transitioning from full-time to part-time or casual work can also be a form of flexible working, catering to changing personal circumstances.

Some employees may opt to ‘purchase’ extra paid leave, take unpaid leave, or use rostered days off in a more flexible manner, such as taking them as half days. Flexitime arrangements let employees accumulate extra hours that can later be exchanged for time off, offering greater control over work schedules. Gradual changes in work hours, particularly before or after parental leave or approaching retirement, can also be beneficial.

By embracing these diverse types of flexible working arrangements, employers can create a more dynamic and supportive work environment that respects the evolving needs of their workforce, while maintaining productivity and business efficiency.

Create a flexible working policy

Creating a flexible working policy is an essential step for businesses aiming to adapt to the evolving needs of their workforce while maintaining operational effectiveness. The policy serves as a framework, outlining the principles, guidelines, and procedures related to flexible working arrangements, ensuring clarity and consistency in their implementation.

A well-crafted flexible work policy should clearly define who is eligible to request flexible working arrangements, as stipulated by statutory rights. It must outline the types of changes that employees can request, such as alterations to working hours, patterns of work, and work locations. This includes, for example, the option to work from home, part-time arrangements, or flexitime.

The policy should also detail the procedural steps that employees need to follow to submit a request for flexible working. This process typically involves a formal written request, but the policy should distinguish between formal and informal requests, providing clear guidelines for each.

Additionally, the policy needs to address any relevant health and safety considerations, particularly for employees working from home. It should encompass guidelines to ensure that home working environments are safe and conducive to productive work.

For businesses seeking assistance in drafting or responding to requests for flexible working arrangements, Employment Compass offers templates and expert advice. They can provide support in developing a comprehensive policy that aligns with legal requirements and business objectives. For further guidance and peace of mind, employers can reach out to Employment Compass' 24-hour Advice Line on 1300 144 002.

Frequently asked questions

What are flexible working arrangements?

Flexible working arrangements are modifications to an employee’s usual work pattern, including changes in hours, location, or schedule to accommodate personal needs.

What is the purpose of flexible work arrangements?

The purpose is to provide employees with a better work-life balance, enhancing productivity and job satisfaction while meeting personal commitments.

Who can request flexible working arrangements?

Eligible employees under the Fair Work Act 2009, including parents, carers, older workers, those with disabilities, or those experiencing family violence, can request flexible working arrangements.

Who is entitled to flexible working arrangements?

Employees who have worked for at least 12 months, including some casuals with regular and systematic employment, are entitled to request flexible working arrangements.

Do employers have to offer flexible working arrangements?

Employers are not required to offer flexible working arrangements to all employees, but they must consider and respond to requests from eligible employees.

How do employees request flexible working arrangements?

Employees submit a written request detailing the desired changes, which the employer must respond to within 21 days.

Can a casual employee request flexible working arrangements?

Yes, casual employees who have a reasonable expectation of continued employment and have been with the employer for at least 12 months are eligible to request.

What is an individual flexibility arrangement?

An individual flexibility arrangement is a written agreement between an employer and employee to vary certain terms of an award or registered agreement to suit individual circumstances.

What are examples of flexible work arrangements?

Examples include altered start and finish times, compressed workweeks, job sharing, part-time work, remote or home working, and flexitime arrangements.

Have a question?

We're available 24/7. Call our Workplace Relations specialists now or contact us below.

Let's resolve your workplace question.

By submitting my contact details, I confirm that I have read and agree to the Terms of Use and the Privacy Policy. I consent to you contacting me about Employment Compass services.

Thank you

Thanks for reaching out. We will get back to you soon.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.