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New flexible work rights and what it means for you

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In September 2018, the Fair Work Commission handed down a decision which will massively help working parents in Australia who want and need to work flexibly. Although this case hasn’t been widely publicised, it is an important piece of the puzzle in an endeavour for more family friendly flexible work arrangements.

In this game-changing decision, the Commission addressed the importance of social inclusion in the workplace, and emphasised that workers at all levels of experience should feel supported by their employer when at work. As reinforced by a great deal of evidence submitted as part of this case, the changes will in turn benefit employers.

So, what are the key take-aways?

In summary, the key take-aways from the decision are as follows:

  • Requests for flexible working arrangements are now an option for both casual and permanent staff;
  • The prerequisite period of employment before an employee can make a request has been dropped significantly, from 12 months to six months;
  • Employers must now provide more comprehensive reasons when an employee’s request for flexible work is refused. They can’t simply rely on ‘reasonable business grounds’, but must instead set out detailed reason(s) for the refusal, and continue to engage in meaningful communication with the employee in an attempt to come to an agreement.

What does this mean for employers?

Under the system in Australia before this September 2018 decision, employers could deny a request for flexible work arrangements on the basis of ‘reasonable business grounds’ whilst giving little clarification or reason for this refusal. Now, though, employers will need to provide substantial reason for denying an employee’s reasonable request for flexible work arrangements, which places the spotlight on the increasing need for flexible work in a modern world.

Employers must now also ensure positive and meaningful communication with their employees seeking flexible work arrangements under the law.

What does this mean for employees?

Both permanent and casual employees can now request flexible work arrangements, and only have to have worked for a period of six months (instead of 12) before being able to make such a request.

The decision has also helped build awareness for employees as to their right to request some form of flexibility in their working arrangements for parental or carer’s responsibilities. Such awareness is crucial towards creating a positive workplace culture, and further informed discussions between employers and employees will help ensure that employees with parental or carer duties aren’t disadvantaged.

Pleasingly, as part of this decision, the Fair Work Commission has emphasised the need for change surrounding the administration of flexible work requests by employees, and with 73% of all flexible work requests being for the purposes of parental responsibilities, we are hopeful that these key changes to workplace culture will make a huge difference in the lives of many working parents around Australia.

Written by Demetrio Zema and Grace Cue. Demetrio is the Director and Problem Solver at Law Squared. Grace is a Legal Project Officer at Law Squared.

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