Flexible work requests rare but nearly always approved

Analysis

Flexible work requests rare but nearly always approved

Less than 5% of employers have received requests to work flexible work arrangements, and just 2% have received requests to extend unpaid parental leave. However, 99% of all requests were approved by the employer, according to a recent report by the FWC.

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Less than 5% of employers have received requests to work flexible work arrangements under the Fair Work Act’s provisions, and just 2% have received requests to extend unpaid parental leave. However, 99% of all requests were approved by the employer, nearly always without variations, according to a recent report by the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

These statistics are interesting given some of the reactions to the Federal Government’s recent announcement that it will legislate to extend these provisions.

The survey conducted by the FWC involved samples of 2650 employers and 4500 employees.

The right of eligible employees with children to request flexible work arrangements is set out in s65(1) of the Act and the right to request an extension of parental leave is set out in s76(1).

Reasons for making requests

Providing care for children was by far the most common reason for an employee request. Fitting in with childcare/pre-school arrangements, including drop-off and pick-up arrangements, was the next most common reason. Other reasons included work–life balance, fitting in with partner’s work arrangements, spending more time with family and high cost of childcare.

The most common types of requests were for a change in finish time and reduced working hours, followed by fewer work days per week and change in start time. Working from home was a less common request (about 6%).

Of the eligible employees who elected not to make a written request for flexible arrangements, around 22% said they were unaware they could do so and about one-third decided against it because they feared it would have a negative impact on their employment relationship, the relationship with the employer/manager, their work colleagues or the workplace itself.

Reasons for denying requests

Over 90% of employers who received just one request for flexible arrangements approved it without variation, 8% approved it with variations and only 1% refused the request. Where employers received requests from more than one employee, 75% granted all of them without variation, 12% varied all of them and the remaining 13% varied some but not all of them.

Almost all (95%) of employers provided written responses to all employee, as required by the Act, but 22% of employers who received only one request failed to do so.

The main reasons given for refusing employees’ requests were:
  •  ‘business reasons’ made it unviable
  •  the job was too senior for it to be viable
  •  working from home was not practicable (eg client face-to-face contact required)
  •  the job was full-time and part-time work was not viable.
Employers well aware of employees’ rights, employees less so

Almost all large employers were aware of employees’ right to request flexible work arrangements, although almost 40% of small businesses were unaware of it. However, only about one-half of all employees (including those who had children and were eligible) were aware of the right they had. Information provided by the employer was their main source of information.

Requests to extend parental leave

Almost all (97%) of requests to extend unpaid parental leave were approved, and only 3% of those with variations.

Editor’s comments on results

The reported level of employee awareness of current provisions is greater than has been reported in some earlier surveys, but still relatively low. It remains to be seen whether the forthcoming legislation to extend the provisions will increase the level of awareness. Conversely, it could be argued that claims by some groups that the current (and proposed future) entitlements would/will have a negative impact on employers have/will be proven to be exaggerated.

The FWC does not require requests or agreed arrangements to be lodged with it, so it is not relying on ‘official’ data as such. It could be argued that many other flexible work arrangements are simply agreed to between employee and employer without going through the formal request process set out in the Act. The survey noted that about 62% of employees who might have made a written request found that their employer agreed to a verbal request, so a written one was unnecessary.

Nevertheless, employers that receive a request to work flexible arrangements from an employee should do the following as a minimum:
  • seriously consider the request
  • be prepared to negotiate an alternative arrangement that both parties can live with, if the initial request is not viable
  • respond to the employee in writing within the required time period
  • if refusing the request, do so on the ground of legitimate business reasons only, and advise the employee of the reason(s) in writing
  • keep a record of all requests and responses, whether approved or refused, and keep a record of any arrangements agreed to.
Around 11% of employees reported that making a request for flexible working arrangements had had a negative effect on their employment (whether or not the request was approved). The remainder was evenly split between having no impact and a positive impact.

Further information

General Manager’s Report into the Operation of the Provisions of the National Employment Standards Relating to Requests for Flexible Working Arrangements and Extensions of Unpaid Parental Leave: 2009–2012, Fair Work Commission, Nov 2012. Direct link to report is here.
 
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