Small business owners are no strangers to the constant juggling of managing an organisation. In a post-COVID world, the issue of properly evaluating and responding to Flexible Working Arrangements (FWA) has been increasingly in the spotlight as working from home became a necessity for most of 2020 and 2021, followed more recently by a push to get employees “back to the office”. What small businesses need to understand are the benefits of accepting such arrangements, and how to implement them (or refuse them) fairly and properly to ensure compliance and a harmonious work culture.
What Are Flexible Working Arrangements?
Flexible working arrangements is the umbrella term for various work structures that deviate from the traditional 9-to-5 in-office setup. This could include part-time work, remote work, job-sharing, compressed workweeks, and more. Small business owners need to understand how these different options will work in their organisation and how they will affect their current and future staffing needs.
Examples of Flexible Working Arrangements
Part-Time Work: Employees work fewer than 38 hours each week with set, regular hours, which is ideal for businesses with varying workloads.
Remote work: Staff can work from a location away from “the office”, like from home or a co-working space, reducing the need for physical office space.
Compressed Workweeks: Staff work longer workdays but shorter workweeks, allowing for improved work-life balance.
Who can request flexible working arrangements?
As per the Fair Work website full-time and part-time employees can request flexible work arrangements if they’ve worked with the same employer for at least 12 months and 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)
- are a person with disability
- are 55 or older
- are pregnant
- are experiencing family and domestic violence, or
- provide care or support to an immediate family or household member who is experiencing family and domestic violence.
Casual employees can request flexible work arrangements if:
- they meet one of the above criteria (such as being a person with disability, being a carer or pregnant)
- they’ve been working for the same employer regularly and systematically for at least 12 months
- there’s a reasonable expectation of continuing work with the employer on a regular and systematic basis.
Flexible Working Arrangements – Benefits for Small Businesses
Embracing flexible working arrangements can be a game-changer for small businesses. These arrangements can help you attract superior candidates for various roles, reduce overhead costs, and improve employee retention. By allowing for flexibility, you promote a more inclusive and diverse workforce, catering to the unique needs of your team members.
The Dangers of Improper Handling
Failure to properly handle flexible working arrangements can result in compliance problems. Dismissing an unauthorised work-from-home arrangement without due process can lead to unfair dismissal claims, as seen in the recent FWC v Authorised Rep  case. Likewise, an employer must have reasonable business grounds for refusing a request for flexible working arrangements – you cannot simply say no, you must have a good reason and you must provide that reason as part of your written response.
What Does Proper Handling Look Like?
Proper handling starts with having clear policies and procedures for flexible work requests. It requires careful thought, effective communication, and thorough documentation. Engaging in open discussions with employees, documenting all agreements and changes, and confirming them in writing is necessary for transparency and compliance.
At Zenith HR, we strongly believe in the importance of developing meaningful, positive work cultures. For expert guidance on handling flexible work arrangement requests, please get in touch with us. We’ll help you implement compliant policies that benefit your business and employees.