Request for long term flexible work arrangement
An employee submitted a request for home-based work (HBW) to work full time from home for 12 months. In support of the application, the employee stated that their recent months of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic had been a positive experience. The employee indicated that they had been able to work more proficiently, maintain a good work and life balance, and that their severe anxiety was being treated better in HBW.
The employee’s manager declined the request for HBW on the basis that there would be significant negative impact on the efficient and effective operation of the employee's team if approval were given to undertake long term HBW.
The employee requested that the agency conduct a primary review of the decision. The primary reviewer confirmed the original decision by the manager to decline the HBW request. The employee submitted an application for secondary review of the decision by the Merit Protection Commissioner (MPC) to the agency.
The agency's Enterprise Agreement and relevant policy (the Policy) largely mirrors the requirements of section 65 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (the FW Act). It provides that the employee must make a request for flexible working arrangements in writing, and the employer may refuse the request only on reasonable business grounds, giving the employee a written response to their request within 21 days.
Requests may be refused on reasonable business grounds including, but not limited to, if the arrangement would:
- be too costly for the department
- require a change to another employee's working arrangements that cannot reasonably be made
- be likely to cause a significant loss in efficiency or productivity, or
- be likely to have a significant negative impact on customer service.
The MPC considered that the decision to decline the employee’s HBW request was not fair and reasonable and should be varied. The MPC considered that the agency did not make all reasonable attempts to accommodate the employee's request, in weighing their individual needs and preferences as well as the capacity and needs of the team, the workplace and business.
As part of their considerations, the MPC sought submissions from the employee and their manager who both provided important information regarding the employee’s personal medical circumstances and the operational aspects of the job. Medical information provided by the employee’s general practitioner indicated that their 'severe anxiety' would benefit from HBW.
The MPC considered that the reasons provided by the manager in declining the employee’s request for HBW did not demonstrate that any of the loss in efficiency or productivity or the negative impact on customer service would be 'significant' as stipulated by the Policy.
Ultimately, the MPC considered that it would be reasonable to approve, and offer the employee a hybrid HBW arrangement where they could work some days at home, and some days in the office. This arrangement was suitable in accommodating the employee’s medical needs and the business needs of the agency. The MPC recommended the agency vary the decision to approve the employee’s request for a HBW agreement, and enter into negotiations to reach an agreement for the employee to undertake HBW.