Stay ahead of the curve: Embrace changes to flexible work and unpaid parental leave disputes.

In today’s rapidly evolving work landscape, where the need for work-life balance and gender equality has gained significant traction, several important changes have been implemented to address concerns related to flexible work arrangements and unpaid parental leave disputes.

Effective from the 6th of June, the Fair Work Commission (FWC), have expanded powers to deal with disputes regarding flexible work arrangements and unpaid parental leave. These changes aim to provide greater employee support and protection, ensuring a more inclusive and equitable work environment, whilst balancing an employer's business needs.

Below our HR and IR specialists, have compiled a guide on the key modifications, dispute resolution processes, and implications to help our clients navigate the changes and crucial aspects of a modern workplace.

Enhanced flexible work arrangements

Recognising the growing importance of flexible work options, Fair Work Act, 2009 amendments which commence on 6 June 2023, include:

  1. Expanding eligibility: The eligibility criteria for requesting flexible work arrangements have been broadened, allowing more employees to apply.
  2. Employer obligations: Employers must now provide a detailed written response to any requests for flexible work arrangements within 21 days. Additionally, employers must provide a valid reason based on reasonable business grounds if a request is denied.
  3. Dispute resolution: A streamlined dispute resolution process has been introduced to address conflicts arising from flexible work arrangement requests. The FWC now has an expanded jurisdiction seeking to achieve fair outcomes for employees and employers.

Strengthening unpaid parental leave dispute resolution

To enhance the support for employees taking unpaid parental leave, the FWC has implemented several changes to its dispute resolution process. These modifications aim to streamline procedures and provide clarity to employees and employers. The key changes are as follows:

  1. Unpaid parental leave disputes: The FWC has been given expanded powers to address disputes related to unpaid parental leave. Employees can now seek assistance and guidance from the FWC to resolve conflicts arising from exercising their parental leave rights.
  2. Mediation and conciliation: The FWC encourages parties involved in unpaid parental leave disputes to engage in mediation or conciliation processes facilitated by the Commission. These alternative dispute-resolution methods aim to facilitate communication and reach mutually acceptable outcomes.
  3. Binding decisions: If disputes regarding unpaid parental leave remain unresolved, the FWC now has the jurisdiction to make binding decisions.

Implications and recommendations

The changes to flexible work arrangements and unpaid parental leave disputes may have significant implications for our clients. Mazars’ HR Consulting division is here to help clients understand and adapt to these changes and assist with complying with the new obligations. Now is the time for clients to be ensuring they are ready to respond to any requests for workplace flexibility or unpaid parental leave, and to do this, we recommend the following:

  1. Conduct a policy review and update to ensure consistency with the new legislative changes.
  2. Training and awareness: Ensure your managers and employees know about the changes and how to respond to requests. Understanding obligations will allow clients to assess applications effectively and not inadvertently deny applications that should be approved.
  3. Compliance management: The new provisions require strict compliance with timelines and the provision of specific written reasons. The only acceptable reasons for declining an application for flexibility for example, are those that constitute genuine business grounds. Understanding what this means in practice will assist clients in complying with the statutory requirements and foster transparency and co-operation in assessing applications.  

We’re here to help

For further information on the changes or for assistance preparing and implementing the new requirements, please contact one of our HR and IR specialists via the form below or on:

Brisbane – Cheryl-Anne Laird

Melbourne – Greg Halse

Sydney – Cheryl-Anne Laird

+61 7 3218 3900

+61 3 9252 0800

+61 2 9922 1166

Further details on the changes can also be found on the Fair Work Commission website.

Supporting documentation:

The FWC has also brought in two new forms that are now available.

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Author: Georgia Spencer and Cheryl-Anne Laird

Date: 7/6/2023