Flexibility for employees

When you first think about flexibility, you might wonder: “How should I approach my manager to talk about this?” or “Is there even a chance that I will get this flexibility request approved?” The steps that you are most likely to go through in requesting and accessing flexibility are:

Graphic depicts questions employees should ask themselves about flexibility

Note that adopting flexibility and making it successful in your team may require some deep personal changes on behalf of your manager and teammates. Don’t let this put you off asking for flexibility, but think about the whole picture so that you will be better able to negotiate effectively. Depending on your particular workplace culture, you may find it helpful to have an informal chat with your manager first, or it may be more appropriate to submit a formal request straight away. A formal request needs to be in writing, explain clearly what changes you are requesting and the reasons for the request. In most cases, you will then need to discuss the request with your manager.

Identify a few flexibility options that could work for you Are there particular hours and days that would make a difference to your work life balance? Would it work best for you to work in the office or away from the office? Do you need to be able to change your working hours or location very quickly in some circumstances? Some organisations limit the flexibility options available to employees. It is important to know what is possible within your organisation’s framework, for example telecommuting may only be available to staff members who meet certain prerequisites, such as a strong performance rating for the preceding six months. The flexibility options available to you will hopefully be quite broad, but they are defined by your organisation’s policy. 

Know the legal framework

What about the legal framework? The Fair Work Act (2009) provides that certain employees, who have worked with the same employer for at least 12 months, have a ‘right to 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
  • 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.

Casual employees can make a request if:

  • 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.

Such a request must be in writing, explain what changes are being requested and explain the reason for the request. The employer must respond to a request within 21 days and can only refuse a request on ‘reasonable business grounds’ and a refusal must be in writing and outline the reasonable business grounds relied upon.

Reasonable business grounds can include:

  • 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
  • in addition, there are some specific requirements for those employers covered by an award.

Note: an employer does not have to accept or reject a request in its entirety. Following a request, it is best practice for an employer and employee to discuss the request and negotiate to come to an arrangement that balances both parties’ needs. Employees that don’t fit into the above categories can also request flexible working arrangements but aren’t covered under this legal framework. Further information about employers’ obligations under the Fair Work Act 2009 can be obtained from the Fair Work Ombudsman. Please note that entitlements under state or territory laws may provide additional flexibility-related rights.

Employee flexibility toolkit

This toolkit explores how employees can negotiate and manage a successful flexible working arrangement, including:

  • Identifying a few flexibility options that could work for you
  • Expressing your interest in flexibility
  • Preparing for flexibility
  • Monitoring, evaluating, adjusting and consolidating flexibility
  • Managing yourself
  • Managing the interaction between your work and your home life
  • What to do if problems arise.