Flexible Work Arrangements For A Modern World
Having children is part of family life. You only have to look around to see that we are experiencing something of a baby boom.
Until recently, for many women the decision to have children meant losing their job, despite having gained important skills and experience to perform that job well. The reality has often been that women who choose not to work full-time after maternity leave, have had to resign. Or move into a different role; possibly one that pays less and is less fulfilling.
In July last year the Fair Work Ombudsman investigated discrimination in the workplace and found that many women were losing their jobs after taking maternity leave.
On January 1st, ten new National Employment Standards took effect. These include some significant changes for parents.
A new parent can now request 24 months unpaid leave. The new return-to-work guarantee means that a new parent is entitled to return to the same job they had before they took parental leave. And parents now have greater power to demand flexible work arrangements in order to care for a child under school age.
Flexible work arrangements can include anything from reduced hours, to job sharing, different start and finish times, or changes in work location.
The way it works is this; employees who have worked somewhere for at least 12 months can request flexible work arrangements, clearly stating their reasons. The employer has 3 weeks to respond in writing.
While some employers fear that flexibility will translate to loss of productivity and a negative impact on their bottom line, the idea is that the specific needs of employees are balanced with the needs of the business. So an employer can refuse the request, provided they have a clear business reason for doing so. If not, the Fair Work Australia tribunal can become involved to resolve the dispute.
This is not an absolute guarantee that a mother returning to work will get the flexibility she wants, but it certainly makes employers more accountable.
The benefits to businesses would seem to far outweigh the inconvenience of having to plan and establish new working arrangements. Consider the saving on recruitment and training costs, and the value of having happy staff who feel they have been well looked after.
Clearly time will tell how it all plays out. Will Fair Work be flooded with disputes? What exactly will be considered to be reasonable grounds for employers to refuse requests? Do employment lawyers have a busy few months ahead?
At least the new focus on family-friendly work laws puts Australia in-step with Europe, where the attitude of employers has long been to promote a healthy work/family balance for employees.