There have been a number of important changes to your legal obligations under the Fair Work Act 2009 effective 1 July 2013 titled “Family Friendly Changes”.
Employers take note - with penalties of up to $51,000 per breach apply, so it’s imperative all employers invest in understanding these changes and ensure you comply with the legislation.
1. Flexible Working
Since 1 January 2010, employees covered by the Fair Work Act 2009 and who have worked for you for at least 12 months and who are responsible for the care of a child under 5 years (or a disabled child aged under 18) have had the legal right to formally request ‘flexible working’ hours.
This means they have had the right to ask, in writing, you to consider changes to their working arrangements. For example, an eligible employee could request they work from home 1 day a week or change their starting time to 7am on Mondays and Wednesdays so that they can pick up their children from day care.
Once a formal, written request is received, you have 21 days in which to consider it and to respond in writing confirming either your acceptance or refusal. If the request is being refused, you have an obligation to explain the ‘reasonable business ground(s)’ supporting your refusal.
The changes now made to the Fair Work Act 2009 have dramatically increased the pool of employees who are eligible to make formal requests for flexible working.
The expanded group of eligible employees now includes those who meet any of the following criteria:
- Employees with caring responsibilities
- Parents or Guardians of children that are school age or younger
- Employees with disabilities
- Employees aged over 55
- Employees who are experiencing family violence or who are caring or supporting a family or household member who is experiencing family violence.
Employers have to reply in writing to the employee within 21 days saying if they accept or refuse the request for flexible working arrangements. The updated legislation now includes a (non-exhaustive) list of the various grounds you can rely upon if rejecting the request. These include:
- The requested changes would be too expensive for the employer to implement
- It would be impractical to change the working arrangements of your other employees to meet the employee’s request or recruit new employees
- The changes would result in a significant losses in productivity or efficiency, and
- The changes would be likely to have a significant negative impact on customer service.
Before deciding on whether there are reasonable grounds to refuse a request, employers should look at:
- How the change would affect the workplaces 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 employees request.
2. Parental Leave
Significant changes have also been made to unpaid parental leave entitlements and, once again, heavy penalties may be imposed if you don’t meet your new obligations.
As of 1 July, members of eligible ’employee couples’ can now take up to 8 weeks of unpaid concurrent leave – a significant increase from the previous 3 week limit. In addition, this leave no longer needs to be taken as soon as the child is born or placed into your employee’s care or it can be taken in separate periods of at least 2 week blocks.
Employees with less than 12 months’ service are now also eligible to request a transfer to a ‘safe job’ during their pregnancy and, if no safe job exists at the time, you will become obligated to provide the employee with access to unpaid parental leave. In practice, this may present a number of difficulties for you, especially if you’re running a small business.
3. Other Changes from 1 January 2014
Amendments have also been made to your obligations to “consult” with employees regarding changes to regular rosters and ordinary working hours, union right of entry into your workplace and time limits for ‘unlawful termination’ applications. Employees who are being bullied at work will be able to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying. The Commission will have to commence to deal with the matter within 14 days.
Expert advice should always be sought if you find yourself dealing with any of these situations.
Please do not hesitate to contact Azure Group at email@example.com if you have questions about your individual situation.