If one of your employees presented you a case for flexible working – perhaps to reduce their hours to part time, or for remote work a few days a week – would you know how to respond? Your workplace, your way? Think again.
Although your obligations as an employer are far from breaking news (the Flexible Working Amendment Act came into force back in 2008) so many of us would be left wondering what our obligations actually are when asked to consider flexible working arrangements. There are penalties associated with going off course when it comes to employment process and procedure, so it’s worth getting up to speed.
Requesting a Flexible Work Arrangement
Essentially any employee has the ‘right to request’ a flexible working arrangement for any reason. These arrangements come in a variety of forms like a change to the hours they work, the times and days they work, and/or where they work. The request must be in writing and the employee must outline how they believe the arrangement will work for the business.
Considering a Flexible Work Arrangement
In turn, you as an employer have a ‘duty to consider’ the request and must respond (in writing) as soon as possible, but no more than a month later. You don’t have to agree to the requested arrangement, however you do have to ensure that you’ve considered it objectively. If you decline it you’re doing so due to ‘Recognised Business Grounds’. It could be that work is unable to be redistributed amongst the rest of your team, you may be unable to recruit additional staff to make up the shortfall, or that the requested arrangement is likely to lead to a decline in quality, performance and/or the ability to service customers. Perhaps there isn’t enough work to be done during the times the employee has asked to work, there might be a conflict with structure changes in the pipeline or perhaps the impact of the suggested arrangement would simply result in too many additional costs.
Declining a Flexible Work Arrangement
Whatever the reasoning behind a refusal of an employee’s request for flexible working, you must provide your employee with a clear explanation of the reasons for that ground. As a guide the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) recommends, “Your explanation should include all the key facts and clearly identify why the Recognised Business Ground applies in this case. It’s good business practice and it will also help keep your staff on side.”
If this is news to you, and you’re feeling slightly panicked at the possibility of your employees lining up with their flexible working requests, take a breath. Flexible working arrangements are almost always win-win if implemented correctly.
The ‘right to request’ simply provides a clear pathway for employers and employees to arrive at flexible working arrangements that strike a balance between being good for your people and good for business.