Proposed amendments to the Fair Work Act

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The Federal Government has proposed a number of amendments to the Fair Work Act which will give employees more rights in a number of different areas. It is likely that these amendments will be rushed through Parliament prior to the Federal election, and will affect all employers.

The main amendment is an expansion of the right to request flexible working hours, with other proposed changes regarding consultation, workplace bullying and penalty rates.

Right to Request Flexible Working Hours

Currently, the right to request flexible hours is limited to parents with responsibility for:

  1. a child under school age; or
  2. a child with disability aged under 18.

The Federal Government is planning to extend the right to request flexible work arrangements to include:

  1. employees with caring responsibilities;
  2. employees who are parents of, or who have responsibility for the care of a child of school age;
  3. employees with a disability;
  4. mature-age employees; and
  5. workers experiencing family violence and workers providing personal care, support and assistance to a member of their immediate family or member of their household because they are experiencing family violence.

Currently, employers can only refuse a request on reasonable business grounds and this will remain. In its new amendments, the Government will provide further guidance to employers and employees about what constitutes ‘reasonable business grounds’.

The Unions are pushing for the amendments to go further so that employees can appeal to the Fair Work Commission if their requests are refused.

Other Proposed Amendments

If passed, the bill would also:

  1. require employers to consult with employees about changes to regular rosters or ordinary work hours;
  2. enable pregnant employees to transfer to a safe job regardless of their period of service;
  3. enshrine the principle of penalty rates in legislation; and
  4. allow employees suffering bullying in their workplace to go to the Fair Work Commission rather than WorkCover.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the Government’s bill was “extremely lopsided” and did not even attempt to address issues of concern to employers. The bill expands the entitlements of employees and unions in numerous areas including, union right of entry, bullying claims, award penalty rates, the right to request flexible work arrangements, parental leave, hours of work, and rosters.

We are happy to answer any questions you may have surrounding flexible working arrangements. Employers should have policies in place to deal with flexibility and ensure that all employees are treated fairly and consistently when requesting flexibility.

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