Thursday, 16 June 2016

How to request Flexible Working Arrangements

When considering returning to work from parental leave, many women would like to work part time. Under the Fair Work Act, this is covered under the term Flexible Working Arrangements. 

However, Flexible Work Arrangements  don't just mean working part time, and it is not limited to women returning to work from parental leave.

Photo credit: gcoldironjr2003 via VisualHunt / CC BY-ND

According to Fair Work, examples of flexible working arrangements include changes to:

  • hours of work (eg. changes to start and finish times)
  • patterns of work (eg. split shifts or job sharing)
  • locations of work (eg. working from home).

In Australia, anyone who has worked for their employer for more than 12 months can request flexible working arrangements if they: 
  • are the parent, or have responsibility for the care, of a child who is school aged or younger
  • are a carer (under the Carer Recognition Act 2010)
  • have a disability (and are qualified for a disability support pension under the Social Security Act 1991)
  • are 55 or older
  • are experiencing family or domestic violence, or
  • provide care or support to a member of their household or immediate family who requires care and support because of family or domestic violence.

Photo via VisualHunt

The process

1. Plan
It is really important that you consider how what you are asking for will impact the workplace, and what you think can be done to minimise the impact. You are only doing yourself a disservice if you try and leave this step to Management. The flexible work is to benefit you, so you should plan and be prepared for how this can work within your team and Company.
Flexible Work requests can only be refused on reasonable business grounds. 

Reasonable business grounds are:
  • the requested arrangements are too costly
  • other employees' working arrangements can't be changed to accommodate the request
  • it’s impractical to change other employees’ working arrangements or hire new employees to accommodate the request
  • the request would result in a significant loss of productivity or have a significant negative impact on customer service.

So in your plan, think about those four dot points. Consider:

  • will this cost the business money? If so, is it a large cost or minimal (e.g. requiring a smart phone to work from home). Is there precedent in the organisation for this?
  • obviously it would not be appropriate to talk to other member's in your team to see if they will change their working arrangements (please don't do this!), but you should think about how your request will impact others in the team and what alternatives there may be for the business to consider
  • how can any losses in productivity or customer service be avoided or lessened?

2. Initial conversation
Although not required, it is a courtesy to have a conversation with your Manager as a "heads up". Let them know what issues are coming up with your current work hours/pattern/location and an outline of your proposal. Let your Manager know you are submitting the request in writing, and do this directly after talking to your Manager.

3. Written request
This is a VERY important step as it is a requirement in the Fair Work Act. If you want any protections that Act can give you, then you need to make sure you put your request in writing. This can be via letter or email, the latter is probably better as you can ensure it was sent/received.
In your request you must explain what changes are being asked for AND explain the reasons for the request. 
You should explain your plan of how this will work in the organisation (as in point 1 above).

Your employer is required under the Fair Work Act to respond to you within 21 days saying whether the request is granted or refused. A request can only be refused on reasonable business grounds. If a request is refused the written response must include the reasons for the refusal. Your company is also required to discuss, or make attempts to discuss, with you your request prior to refusing it.

Photo credit: gcoldironjr2003 via / CC BY-ND

I don't know what to ask for?

Amanda* and I recently had an online chat as she wants to work less hours in the office because her eldest has started school and the after hours school care is messy and expensive.

Her family are struggling with the shift from day care being at one venue from 7am-6pm to suddenly having two drop offs in the morning, and with school hours being much shorter and the after hours school care not at the school the child attends.

Because she works in a Senior role, Amanda had no idea what to ask for or how it would be seen by her peers, or considered by the organisation.

In Amanda's planning stage, I advised her to:
  1. Check any existing Company policies and procedures. These may be called "flexible working arrangements", "working remotely", "working from home" etc. If you are in a large organisation, you may find there are several policies and some may even overlap between a "HR" policy and a "Health & Safety" policy
  2. Consider your overall family situation. Do you want to work less hours, or just work the same hours differently?
  3. Consider your workload. Does 100% need to be done in the office? Can you work some hours at home? If you want to reduce your hours, how will all the work be done?
  4. Will your proposal cost the Company money? If so, is that reasonable? (for example, providing you with a smart phone to be contactable when not in the office)
Every job, and every organisation is different, so it is really important that you get this planning stage right and even take more than one option to your employer for consideration.

Also, flexible working arrangements does not just mean working part time. Try and think outside the square and perhaps your Manager will too.

What if my employer says no?

Discuss with your Manager and involve your HR Manager. 

If you still aren't satisfied, you can call the Fair Work info line on 13 13 94, but unless there is a specific clause in your Industrial Instrument (contract of employment, Award or Enterprise Agreement), then there is no remedy for you to go to Fair Work if your request is refused. However, you may be able to seek remedies under other federal or state laws such as anti-discrimination legislation (on the grounds of family or carer's responsibilities.)

More Information

Fair Work provide template letters and more information here

Do you have a success story to share? 

Whether you are an employee or run your own business, you can share your story on Savvy Business Women, our Facebook group dedicated to information, collaboration and support for Business Women.

*Amanda is not her real name, and I have also altered some of the information to protect her privacy. She has consented to me using her example as a blog post to hopefully assist others.

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