Going back to work after having a baby and time off is always a difficult time for parents – not just for the parent guilt and separation anxiety, but also for the worry of how you'll cope with the demands of work and children and manage to juggle it all successfully without falling to pieces.
If you are concerned about how your days will work out and whether you will have any quality time with your baby, then you could consider asking your employer for a more flexible working arrangement.
Flexibility in the work place is one of the most effective ways of managing kids and work, getting around awkward or inconvenient childcare hours and even allowing part-time or home-based work, which can also help reduce childcare costs.
But when you've been out of work for a while and are feeling a bit insecure in your position, it's not always easy to feel you can speak up and ask for what you want.
Did you know that eligible working parents in Australia have had the right to request their employer for flexible working arrangements to enable them to care for their child?
This is a significant improvement for working parents so make sure you know what you are entitled to and how to ask for it.
From 1 January 2010, the National Employment Standards (NES) replaced the non-pay rate provisions of the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard. Under the NES eligible employees have a right to request flexible working arrangements to assist them to care for their child.
What is a flexible working arrangement?
An employee who is a parent, or has responsibility for the care of a child, may request a change in their working arrangements, which might include changes in hours of work (e.g., reduction in hours, changes to start/finish times); changes in patterns of work (e.g., working 'split-shifts' or job sharing) or changes in location of work (e.g., working from home or another location).
Are you eligible?
An employee who is a parent, or has responsibility for the care of a child, may request a change in their working arrangements, but the following rules apply:
- You must have completed at least 12 months continuous service with your employer immediately before making the request or
- You must be a casual employee that has been employed by the employer on a regular and systematic basis for a sequence of periods of employment of at least 12 months, immediately before making the request, and has a reasonable expectation of continuing employment by the employer on a regular and systematic basis
- You must have care of a child who is either under school age (i.e. the age at which the child is required by the applicable State or Territory law to start attending school) or under 18 and has a disability.
How do you ask and what are your chances?
At the end of the day the employer is not obliged to meet your requests, but they are obliged to hear them and there must be reasonable grounds for any refusal. At the end of the day it's a compromise but it has to work for the employer without disrupting their business or other employees.
The request must be made in writing to your employer and must set out details of the change sought and appropriate reasons for the change.
Your employer must provide a written response within 21 days, stating whether they grant or refuse the request. And they may refuse the request, but only on reasonable business grounds and these grounds must be written in the response letter.
Factors that may be relevant in defining reasonable business grounds could include:
- The effect on the workplace and the employers' business, including the financial impact of approving your request and the impact on efficiency, productivity and customer service
- The inability to re-organise work among existing staff
- The inability to recruit a replacement employee for any part time requests etc
- The practicality or otherwise of the arrangements that may need to be put in place to accommodate the employee's request
What happens if you can't agree of feel your request has been turned down unnecessarily?
If you have an employment contract, enterprise agreement or other written agreement in place that agrees to seek mediation in case of dispute, the Fair Work Act 2009 empowers Fair Work Australia or some other person to deal with the dispute.
The Fair Work Act 2009 allows State and Territory laws to continue to apply to employees where they provide more beneficial entitlements than the NES in relation to flexible work arrangements. If you are unsure of your rights at work for any reason then check out this useful link, which gives the 10 NES entitlements.