Many of us are fortunate to have forward thinking managers and to work in companies where flexible work arrangements are embedded in the fabric of how the business runs. But that’s not the reality for everyon so the Fair Work Commission is trying to change that. A new ruling stipulates that employers will need to justify why flexible work arrangements can’t be made available.
The Fair Work Commission published a ruling about Family Friendly Working Arrangements. In that ruling, they say “the existing regulation regarding family friendly working arrangements is inadequate and is failing to assist employees to balance their work and family responsibilities”.
An earlier decision made by the Commission said the accommodation of work and family responsibilities through the provision of flexible working arrangements can provide benefits to both employees and their employers and that access to flexible working arrangements enhances employee well-being and work-life balance, as well as positively assisting in reducing labour turnover and absenteeism.
They also noted that there is “significant unmet employee need for flexible working arrangements”.
In other words, while culturally there seems to be resistance to flexible work arrangements, the reality is that it can be a win-win situation.
Paragraph 64 of the ruling, which is written in a form of legalese, says “An employer may only refuse a … request for a change in working arrangements on ‘reasonable business grounds”.
Requests must be responded to within 21 days with reasons for the refusal and there is also provision for a legal challenge to the response if the justification for refusing a request is unreasonable.
The Commission says they will review the decision in June 2021.
While the Commission says it is taking a cautious approach, this is a positive step. Many people I know have to fight tooth and nail to get some flexibility so turning the onus around so employers have to justify why they can’t be flexible rather than putting the onus on the employee, who is often in a position of limited power, to justify why their family comes first.
Will this new ruling matter to you? While it only really applies to awards, I suspect it will filter into individual work contracts over time as well.