Eighty-six to the 9 to 5?

Working from home, shift selection, flexible working hours and leave arrangements, extended career sabbaticals and job rotations will no longer be elusive concepts after 1 January, 2010. From this date the government's expanded statutory safety net of 10 National Employment Standards (NES) is set to take effect. Potentially, the most far-reaching of those standards relates to flexible working arrangements, as well as the new statutory redundancy entitlement.

Employees (with at least 12 months of service) will have the right to request that their employers change their working arrangements to assist them in, for example, caring for a child. Employers will be required to provide a written response within 21 days of receiving the request. Although employers will have the opportunity to refuse the request on "reasonable business grounds" (which have yet to be defined), the intention of the NES is to encourage employers to accommodate their employees' family responsibilities when requested to do so. It may be more difficult for a larger organisation to justify a refusal where the flexible arrangement would not place a significant costs burden on the business and where other staff would be available to cover the entire operational day of the business. Refusing a flexible work request could also result in possible discrimination claims being made by the employee.

These flexible work requests may also have a significant effect on the traditional "9 to 5" full-time working arrangements that most white collar industries operate under. Since there is currently no definition of "flexible working arrangements", the scope for varying requests and uncertainty is unlimited. Employers may see a shift in their operations as a result of having to accommodate these outside of work employee commitments. As the old saying goes, changing times call for changing measures, and employers should start thinking about and planning towards these changes.