Changes to Flexible Work Rules: Are you up-to-date?


As of the new financial year changes to the rules surrounding an employee’s right to request flexible work arrangements took effect. The changes mean that thousands more Australian workers are now entitled to request the right to work flexibly. The Government says these changes were introduced to make it easier for ‘modern Australian families to balance their work and family life’. This issue of the Better Workplace Bulletin summarises the key changes.

Changes to Flexible Work Rules

Earlier this year the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Bill Shorten announced the Government would amend the Fair Work Act to provide more employees with the right to request flexible work arrangements.

Flexible work arrangements include opportunities for work which enable employees to:

  • Change their hours of work for example by working fewer hours, changing start or finish times and/or working a compressed week to enable them to meet their personal responsibilities.
  • Change their patterns of work for example by working split shifts or job sharing
  • Change their place of work for example by letting employees work from home.

Mr Shorten said the proposed changes were suggested after an independent panel reviewed the effectiveness of the Act and determined that many employees were requesting and being granted flexible work opportunities but that the opportunity should be extended to a wide cross section of working Australians.

“The panel noted that many workers weren’t aware of their rights to request flexible work arrangements and recommended that more workers should be able to access the right,” he said.

Before 1 July 2013 employees were eligible to request flexible work arrangements if they:

  • Had been working with their current employer for at least 12 months or were a casual employee who:
    • Had been employed regularly and systematically for at least 12 months
    • Were likely to continue working regularly
  • Had to care for a child who was either:
    • Under school age or
    • Under 18 with a disability

As of 1 July this year an employee is eligible to request flexible working arrangements if they:

  • Have been with their current employer for at least 12 months or are a casual employee who:
    • has been employed regularly and systematically for at least 12 months
    • is likely to continue working regularly
  • Are a parent or guardian of a child who is school age or younger
  • Are a carer (as defined in the Carer Recognition Act 2010)
  • Have a disability
  • Are 55 or older
  • Are experiencing family or domestic violence
  • Are caring for or supporting an immediate family or household member who requires care or support because of family or domestic violence.

Mr Shorten said extending the eligibility rules would make it easier for employers to retain staff.

“Providing these opportunities means that workers and employers have a framework for discussing employees’ needs for flexible work arrangements across a range of circumstances. It benefits employees who may otherwise feel they have no choice but to leave employment, and benefits employers who retain skilled and experienced staff and benefits the broader economy and community by providing pathways for increased workforce participation and social inclusion for particular groups,” he said.

Employers must respond to any request to work flexibly within 21 days and may only refuse a request on ‘reasonable business grounds’. If an employer does refuse a request he or she must also provide reasons.

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman reasonable business grounds for refusing a flexible work arrangement may be because the new arrangement:

  • Is too expensive for the employer to implement
  • Would result in a significant loss in efficiency or productivity
  • Would have a significant negative impact on customer service

Other reasonable business grounds may include:

  • A lack of capacity to change the work arrangements of the other employees affected.
  • It would be impractical to change the working arrangements of other employees or recruit new employees.

To assess whether there are reasonable grounds to refuse a request for flexible work arrangements employers should look at:

  • How the change would affect the workplace’s finances, efficiency, productivity and customer service
  • How easy it is for current staff to cover work
  • How easy it is to find someone else to do the work
  • The arrangements needed to accommodate the employee’s request.

 This Better Workplace Bulletin was First Published in August 2013

Changes to flexible work rules