Accessing flexible work arrangements after parental leave
Women returning to work from parental leave have the right to request flexible work arrangements.
However, discrimination in the workplace continues with such requests unreasonably refused by some employers due to a loophole in the legislation.
While under the National Employment Standards (NES) employers are required to “consider flexible return to work arrangements”, it is at employer discretion, meaning outright refusal can be their position.
While the Fair Work Act stipulates that an employer may only refuse a request for an arrangement on “reasonable business grounds,” it does not compel them to provide a reason for refusal to the employee or to discuss possible alternatives.
This leaves employees looking to return to work after parental leave in a precarious position.
Our union is actively working to change industrial legislation to genuinely make it family friendly.
In a previous submission to the “Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review” conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission, our union recommended that the NES be re-drafted to “place the onus on an employer to not refuse a request for flexible work arrangements unless it can demonstrate the reasonable business grounds for refusing that request”.
Flexible working conditions in agreements
At a workplace level, our union has worked to improve the terms and conditions in the NES, by negotiating provisions in collective agreements that preserve jobs and commit employers to duly consider reasonable flexible working arrangements after parental leave.
Members have the right to request flexible work arrangements and, if a member feels they are not receiving due consideration, they are encouraged to contact our union to discuss their options.
There have been many instances where our union has assisted members facing the difficult choice between returning to fulltime employment in order to retain their job, taking a further unpaid leave (if available), or having to resign.
Many of our members have successfully accessed flexible work arrangements as a result of the various sector collective agreements.
In a recent example, a member at a Lutheran primary school teacher, currently on maternity leave, wrote to her principal requesting to return to work on a part-time basis.
In responding to the request, the principal stated that returning on a part-time basis would not work as it would be “too disruptive for the students”, especially towards the end of the school year.
The principal instead gave the member two options: to return to work full-time in Term 4 2016; or, return to work fulltime in 2017.
Each option clearly denied the member the ability to return to work on a part time basis.
The principal’s response to the member came despite the fact there were other teachers at the school working part time and/or in a job-share arrangement.
After receiving the response from her principal, the member contacted our union’s Industrial Services Team for further assistance.
Our union contacted the principal on the member’s behalf, pointing out that the provisions in the Lutheran collective agreement and of the NES entitled the member to request part-time work following maternity leave, as well as the employer’s responsibility to give due consideration to such a request and to not dismiss it without sound business grounds.
After numerous meetings between the principal and the member, the member is set to return to work in Term 4 under the part-time arrangement, with an agreement between the Principal and member to revisit options for the member to continue to work part-time in 2017.
If you are contemplating returning to work in a part-time or job sharing capacity, our union may be able to assist you with your request. Contact our Industrial Services team on FREECALL 1800 177 938.
This article was extracted from the September 2016 edition of Independent Voice.