Negotiating flexible work with your employer

Your employer may not immediately understand your needs as a carer and it is important to present a good business case for flexible working arrangements.

Juggling a caring role with paid work can be tough, and many carers report that rigid employment restrictions make it difficult to maintain their employment whilst caring. Often carers need the flexibility to leave work on short notice for emergencies or flexible start and finishing times to accommodate their caring role. Carers may also wish to have the flexibility to work from home or job share.

Talking to your employer about your situation can be a daunting prospect, but you should remember that your experience and skills are valuable and that it will cost money to recruit and train somebody to replace you. Your employer is likely to want to make sure that:

  • all your duties are covered without inconveniencing your customers or colleagues
  • quality and service standards are maintained
  • any flexibility they show you can be supported in a way that is fair and equitable to other staff.

You should also remember that caring is common. There are over 850,000 carers across NSW, which is 12% of the NSW population. Many carers feel uncomfortable discussing their caring role in the workplace and your past or current colleagues may have a caring role that you don’t know about.

With an ageing population, the number of carers in the workforce is likely to grow and it is important for workplaces to be aware of carers to ensure that employees with caring roles are supported. A carer-friendly workplace culture also helps your employer to attract and retain diverse talent.  

Preparing to make a request

A formal request for flexible working arrangements has to be made in writing. You might want to consider making an appointment to have a chat with your employer or someone from HR before you make a formal request.

Your workplace entitlements

It is a good idea to be aware of your legal rights as a carer at work, which are protected by Australia’s National Employment Standards as well as Commonwealth and State anti-discrimination laws.

The National Employment Standards (NES) set the minimum conditions of your employment, and outline the conditions of carer’s leave and flexible working arrangements. They also prevent your employer from discriminating against you because of your caring responsibilities - you should have the same treatment and opportunities as all other employees. 

Read our advice on the caring and paid work page to find out more about rights that are particularly relevant to carers. The entitlements in your workplace will also include rights and conditions set out in different documents. Some workplace entitlements are set out in national Modern Awards. Others will be set out in the individual enterprise or other agreements negotiated between your employer and the people employed in your workplace. 

Modern Awards

Modern Awards came into effect on 1 January 2010 and cover most workplaces in Australia. They establish minimum workplace conditions for employers and employees who work in the same industries or occupations. You can find out more about Modern Awards on the Fair Work website.

Enterprise agreements

Enterprise agreements outline the terms and conditions of employment negotiated between employers and employees in a particular workplace. From 1 January 2010, no other types of agreement can be made in workplaces.

Other workplace agreements

Your workplace may be covered by an agreement made before 1 January 2010. Collective agreements, Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) and Individual Transitional Employment Agreements (ITEAs) were made under previous legislation and can remain in force until they are terminated or replaced.

Talk to your HR or personnel department, your union representatives or contact Fair Work Australia on 13 13 94 to find out what conditions might apply in your workplace.

Plan ahead

Consider how much you are prepared to disclose

Find out if your workplace has a privacy policy that protects your confidential information. Think about how much you are prepared to tell your employer about your caring responsibilities. You are not obliged to provide sensitive details to support your request.

Test whether your workplace culture is carer friendly

Find out if other people in your workplace have caring responsibilities or have negotiated flexible working arrangements. Ask whether their management and colleagues have been supportive. Encourage them to talk, in confidence, about any difficulties they have had.

Prepare for objections

Think carefully about the difficulties you might face combining work and caring and try to come up with ideas for dealing with potential problems. Try to think about your employer's needs as well as your own.

Gather support

You may be able to ask other people to support your case, your manager or team leader, HR or personnel, your colleagues, or a union or staff representative.

Brush up on negotiation skills

It will be easier to get what you want if you have planned your arguments in advance and tried to make a case that works for your employer as well as it does for you. Sometimes it helps to have these written down.

Making your request

A formal request under the Fair Work Act 2009 must be in writing and be given to your employer. Your written request must outline:

  • the change sought and
  • the reasons for the change.

The Fair Work website has a useful template letter and example letter you can use to request flexible working arrangements.

Your employer is obliged to respond to your request in writing within 21 days of the request being made. The response must state whether your request will be granted or refused. If the request is denied, the written response must include details of why it has been denied.

An employer can only refuse a request on reasonable business grounds. The Fair Work website details some of the reasons that an employer can refuse your request on reasonable business grounds, which include:

  • the arrangement would be too costly for the employer
  • the working arrangements of other employees cannot be changed to accommodate your new working arrangements 
  • it would be impractical to change the working arrangements of other employees or recruit new employees, to accommodate your request.
  • your request would result in significant loss of efficiency or productivity
  • your request would have a significant negative impact on customer service.

Ideally, you and your employer would be able to find a solution that meets both of your needs. If your request is refused and you are not satisfied with the reasons provided, the Fair Work Commission may be able to assist you, the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman cannot force an employer to agree to your request. 

Remember that there should be no adverse outcomes for you making a request for flexible work arrangement. If this occurs, seek advice straight away or from the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94, or contact your Union if you are a member.

Visit the Fair Work website for more information on negotiating flexible work.

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Carers NSW acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land, Elders past and present and all Aboriginal people.