Requests for flexibility are becoming increasingly common, not least off the back of COVID and working from home, and the tension arising as employers move to pulling employees back to the office. As businesses navigate the best path forward in terms of flexible work arrangements, the importance of giving adequate consideration to requests and documenting the process thoroughly cannot be overstated. The last thing business owners want is to end up before the Fair Work Commission (FWC), so employers must promptly and appropriately manage these types of requests from employees.

Where do employers start with requests for flexibility?

A good starting point is to consider how the flexible work arrangement would look if it could be accommodated. What is the impact on the employee’s ability to perform their role under the new arrangements? How will it affect the rest of the team and the business as a whole? If, ultimately, it is not feasible, rather than starting from a place of refusal, the employer can demonstrate that every effort was made or that maybe a compromise can be found.

For those situations where it is not possible to accommodate a request for flexible working, it is important to be prepared to demonstrate why that is the case. Employers must really think through and articulate why they require an employee to work in a particular way, and seriously consider if there is a way to think ore creatively about what is possible.

What is the impact on team cohesion and collaboration?

Team cohesion and collaboration can be a justifiable reason as to why employers require employees to be in the office, but is it necessary five days a week? Business owners must document and keep records about the kind of work people are doing that can provide evidence as to why the business needs a particular way of working and being prepared to explain and defend that.

Overcoming issues around this could be looking into different ways of structuring a team so there are certain anchor days when employees are together in the workplace, but otherwise working remotely. Or if a business is going to have mandated days at the office, ensure that they are utilised effectively by holding meetings and using the time for collaboration and teamwork, as opposed to just being in the office for the sake of being in the office.

Employers who deny flexibility without careful consideration are at risk

Businesses who require people to return to the office five days a week without an opportunity to negotiate could face real consequences. Not only is there the risk of ending up before the FWC due to claims of discrimination if, for example, no consideration is given to a person with a disability who has requested flexible working arrangements. Additionally, in a tight labour market where turnover is so costly, business owners who refuse to consider flexibility as an option are likely to lose employees who will simply go elsewhere.

The importance of outlining the details

Employers receiving a flexibility request should make sure the terms of what is being requested are clear. Rather than just ‘working from home,’ the employee needs to outline the hours that they are available so that all parties know exactly what is being requested. Then, once an agreement has been made, documentation is critical not only for record keeping purposes, but to help minimise disputes down the track. A separate flexibility agreement is an effective way to clearly outline the terms to the employee, manager, and HR team.

When it comes to documentation, while the contract and the relevant terms within are important, key will be the emails and letters between the employee and the employer. This includes a copy of the request, a copy of the response to the request, and a copy of any internal documentation about how the agreement was reached.

With the amendments to flexible work arrangements introduced earlier this year, employers need to manage any requests accordingly. Ensure your business is compliant, get in touch with our team for an obligation free chat. Find our articles helpful? Remember to follow us on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn to keep up to date with our practical tips and information for business owners and managers.