Flexible working arrangements - Sound business decisions provided for refusal of part-time work or outposting

The Merit Protection Commissioner has reviewed a number of cases where employees sought access to flexible working arrangements, either part time work or a pattern of full time hours that differed from the standard working day.

The employees concerned were seeking flexible working arrangements either because they were caring for young children or because they were mature age workers. These applications invoked the National Employment Standards contained in the Fair Work Act 2009.

In each of the cases, the employees had reasonably compelling personal circumstances. In some of the cases, the employees had complex and multi-facetted reasons for seeking flexible working arrangements. These included caring responsibilities, health concerns, family support and financial reasons.

The employee's agency, in each case, had sound business reasons for refusing the working arrangement proposed by the employee. In each case, the agency had considered the request, provided the employee with sound business reasons for why the request could not be agreed and offered alternative arrangements, including alternative flexible working arrangements or assistance in seeking a job in an area that may be able to accommodate the flexible working arrangement.

Agencies appear to have particular difficulty in accommodating part time arrangements where the employee works a very small number of hours a week. Agencies argue that it is difficult to provide meaningful work in this circumstance. Agencies are concerned that an employee's productivity and proficiency will be affected because the employee will have reduced access to training and other opportunities for learning on the job.

Agencies may also have difficulty accommodating employee requests to be outposted, that is to work in locations other than where the rest of the team is located. Such arrangements require work that can be undertaken autonomously and a high level of trust in the capacity of the outposted employee to work effectively without supervision and face to face interaction with team members.

Agencies may also have difficulty accommodating requests for flexible working arrangements from team leaders, particularly in processing or client service environments, because the burden of supervision and support of team members falls on other team leaders during periods when the employee is absent.

The Merit Protection Commissioner has found that the agencies behaved fairly and reasonably in the cases referred to above and recommended that the decisions to refuse the employees' applications be confirmed.