Many employers are willing to put in place flexible working arrangements so that staff can remain in the workforce but meet their other life responsibilities or plans. Usually this is just done by discussion and agreement on what will work best for both the employee and employer. If you cannot reach agreement then Employees have the right to request flexible working arrangements under the Employment Relations Act. Employees can seek to vary their hours of work, days of work, or their place of work (e.g. an employee can request that they be allowed to work from home).

An employee’s request for flexible working arrangements must be in writing, and must state the following:

  • The name of the employee;
  • The date of the request;
  • The variation sought to their working arrangements;
  • Whether the variation is to be temporary or permanent;
  • The date on which the variation should take effect/end; and
  • What changes the employer may need to make if the employee’s request is approved.

A request may only be refused if it cannot be accommodated on one of the permitted grounds. Those are—

  • Inability to reorganise work among existing staff:
  • Inability to recruit additional staff
  • Detrimental impact on quality
  • Detrimental impact on performance
  • Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
  • Planned structural changes
  • Burden of additional costs
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand.

However, an employer must refuse a request if—

  • The request is from an employee who is bound by a collective agreement; and
  • The request relates to working arrangements to which the collective agreement applies; and
  • The employee’s working arrangements would be inconsistent with the collective agreement if the employer were to approve the request.

An employee can make unlimited requests for flexible working arrangements but cannot challenge an employer’s refusal of a request unless the employer has breached their obligations under the Act in some way.

An employer must deal with a request as soon as possible, but not later than 1 month after receiving it, and must notify the employee in writing if their request has been approved or refused.  If the employer refuses an employee’s request, the employer must state the reasons for their decision.  If an employer does not comply with their obligations they will be liable to a penalty of up to $2,000.00, which will be payable to the employee.

If you are unsure of your obligations then we recommend you get advice before responding to the request for flexibility. You do not want to give grounds for a personal grievance by a poorly worded response.

If you think your employer has unjustifiably refused your request for flexible working arrangements it is best to get advice from an experienced employment lawyer if you have not been able to sort it out by talking with your employer.