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Flexible work

Providing flexible working arrangements is beneficial to employers and employees. Workplaces that embrace secure flexible working arrangements are more likely to have high morale and productivity. As an employee, you have the right to request flexible working arrangements to help you manage your parent or carer responsibilities or to help you return to work after injury. Employers have a responsibility to seriously consider flexible work arrangements for an employee returning from injury or pregnancy, or an employee with parent or carer responsibilities.

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What is flexible work?

Flexible work can include changes to your working hours, the way your work or the place you work.

A change to work arrangements may occur just once or be ongoing (for a fixed or unspecified time).

Flexible work arrangements can include:

  • working from home
  • working part time or working agreed hours over fewer days
  • job sharing
  • starting or finishing work earlier or later
  • changing hours of work, break times, rosters or meeting times
  • extending unpaid leave when paid leave has been exhausted
  • changing the need for work travel.

Flexible work arrangements can also be an example of reasonable workplace adjustments, which are changes that allow people with a disability to work safely and productively.

Examples of reasonable attempts at flexible work arrangements

  • An employee at an IT company has a child born with disabilities. The employee approaches their employer with the idea of more flexible working arrangements to balance their family needs and work. The employee is placed on a flexible retainer of three days a week. The hours are flexible, allowing them to work at home when they need to.
  • A qualified barista works at a coffee shop that is open from 7am to 4pm. The peak time for coffee sales is between 7 and 11am. The barista asks their employer if they can start at 9am so they can care for their children before the babysitter arrives. The employer considers this request. If they change the barista’s work hours there will be no-one skilled enough to make coffees from 7am to 9am. The cost to professionally train another employee to qualify as a barista would be $20,000 and the annual profit for the business is $180,000. The employer calculates that the barista’s request is not financially viable. They explain the reasons for being unable to meet the request and they discuss other options. The barista suggests that they mentor and train a co-worker on the job so that they can cover the 7 to 9am period. The employer agrees to a trial period to be reviewed after three months.

Who can request flexible work?

Employees (other than a casual employee) who have worked with the same employer for at least 12 months can request flexible working arrangements if they:

  • are the parent, or have responsibility for the care, of a child who is school aged or younger
  • are a carer (under the Carer Recognition Act 2010)
  • have a disability
  • are 55 or older
  • are experiencing family or domestic violence
  • provide care or support to a member of their household or immediate family who requires care and support because of family or domestic violence.

It is against the law for an employer to refuse flexible work requests from these employees unless there are reasonable business grounds. Employers must explain those reasons in a written response.

Making a request for flexible work

There are various ways that you may raise your request with your employer. There may be formal written processes in your workplace to follow or it may be an informal conversation with your supervisor.

Your employer must consider each request seriously and individually.

When you are discussing options with your employer, be prepared to explain how the flexible work arrangements will impact on your carer or parental responsibilities.

Also be prepared to consider how the arrangements may impact on your workplace, based on the size, nature and financial circumstances of the business.

Other issues to discuss include:

  • when the arrangements are to start
  • how long the arrangements will last
  • your entitlements such as personal/carer’s leave or annual leave
  • relevant legal or other constraints such as occupational health and safety laws or award penalty rates.

Trial periods should also be considered for the proposed flexible work arrangement. Regular meetings could be scheduled to assess how the arrangement is going.

When can an employer refuse a request for flexible work?

An employer does not have to agree to every request. However they cannot refuse a request unless it is reasonable to do so in the circumstances.

The key point is that each request must be considered seriously and individually.

There are many circumstances which may influence whether the refusal of a request is reasonable, including:

  • nature of the employee’s work and parental or carer responsibilities
  • nature and cost of the arrangements required for an employee to fulfil their family or carer responsibilities
  • financial circumstances of the employer’s business
  • size and nature of the workplace and the business
  • effect of the flexible work arrangements on the workplace, including the financial impact on the business
  • consequences for the business of having the flexible work arrangements
  • consequences for the employee of not having the flexible work arrangements.

Other factors that might be relevant in a particular case include:

  • when the arrangements are to start
  • how long the arrangements will last
  • information that has been provided by the employee about their situation
  • accrued entitlements of the employee, such as personal or carer’s leave, or annual leave
  • any legal or other constraints that could affect the feasibility of the business accommodating the responsibilities, such as occupational health and safety laws or award penalty rates.

Visit the National Employment Standards for more information and guidance.

Training and resources for employers

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission offers training for employers as well as a number of useful resources on discrimination and the law.

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