Flexible working practices: Balancing competing life interests

In the modern workplace all employees have competing demands on their time. Whether these competing demands are work and family, sports or social functions, employees have a life outside of the workplace. These competing interests should be celebrated as opposed to feared as it presents both employees and employers with an opportunity to create and be a part of an exciting and accommodating workplace.

When can an employee make a flexible working request?

Employees are able to make a flexible working request to their employer whenever they want. If you would like to undertake further studies or have a sports competition on a certain day of the week, there is nothing stopping you from requesting a change in your working hours to accommodate the activity.

Although there is nothing to stop you from making a flexible working request, there is only a finite number of circumstances when an employer is obligated to consider that request under the Fair Work Act 2009. A few examples of when employers are obligated to consider a flexible working request are if an employee has caring responsibilities, has a disability, or is 55 years or older.

In addition, an employer will only need to consider a request if you are a permanent employee who has completed at least 12 months service, or a casual employee who has completed at least 12 months service and has a reasonable expectation of continuing employment.

What should employers do if a flexible working request is made?

If an eligible employee makes a flexible working request, you must look at ways to accommodate their request. An employer will only be able to refuse a flexible working request on reasonable business grounds. Reasonable business grounds include the employee’s request would be too costly to accommodate or there would be a significant loss to the efficiency or productivity of the practice.

If an employee makes the request, the practice must provide the employee with a response to their request within 21 days outlining whether the request is accepted or refused. If it is determined you are unable to accommodate the employee’s request on reasonable business grounds, you must outline to the employee the steps that you have taken to try accommodate their request and the reasons the practice has ultimately not been able to accommodate.

What are the benefits of granting a flexible working request for employers?

While there are only a limited number of instances where an employee can make a flexible working request under the Fair Work Act 2009, you will find that there are significant benefits in considering all requests and genuinely trying to reach an agreement with an employee on alternative working arrangements.

You will need to ensure that the practice is able to function efficiently if a request is accepted, and this should be balanced against the potential detrimental impact that it may have on the morale of other staff.

Initially, accommodating an employee’s flexible working request will result in changes to the business.However, showing your employees you care about their welfare and outside of work activities, will positively impact on the work culture. More importantly, by showing employees that you have a vested interest in their life beyond the practice, is likely to reduce staff turnover as employee job satisfaction will increase.

How to position yourself in the best way to make a flexible working request

If you are considering making a flexible working request, you should not see this as a negative but instead embrace the idea and consider the opportunities for both yourself and the practice. To ensure that you are prepared for a conversation with the practice owner in relation to whether the request is practicable, there are a number of considerations that should be taken into account.

Before making a request, first you should consider any potential detriment that the request being granted may have on the practice. Considering the request from the point of view of the practice will assist you in finding solutions to any potential issues that may arise.

For example, if you were to request that you work one day less each week so you can study, the request may be rejected if you have not considered the impact it may have on the practice. If, however, you consider the practice’s position and demonstrate the long-term benefits that the practice will receive through your improved ability to perform your role because of the extra education, it is far more likely that your request will be accepted.

We understand that employees and employers can sometimes have competing priorities. Luckily for you, the ADA HR Advisory Service is here to help! If you have any questions about making a flexible working request or how to respond to one, please contact the ADA HR Advisory Service on 1300 232 462 and a member of our expert team will be more than happy to assist you with your query.

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