All employers need to be aware of the recent changes that have been made to the Australian Fair Work Act. These include adjustments with regard to parental leave, requests for flexible hours, bullying in the workplace, and consultation terms for changing regular working hours. More details are provided below.
Unpaid parental leave
New parents who have worked for at least 12 months for their employers are now entitled for up to 2 years’ unpaid parental leave between them (i.e. per couple) to care for their newborn or newly adopted child. Parental leave can start at 6 weeks prior to the birth (or adoption) for the main carer. If the second parent is taking parental leave it can also start at 6 weeks prior to the birth or alternately when the first parent completes their leave. Up to 8 weeks of parental leave can be taken by both parents at the same time – although it does not necessarily have to be taken in one block.
In both cases employers are required to keep jobs open for the employees to return to. This may of course necessitate taking on casual or temporary workers to cover their absence in the meantime.
What about paid parental leave?
Primary carers may be eligible for up to 18 weeks of paid parental leave and their partners for up to 2 weeks, at the national minimum wage level. More information on this is available from Centrelink. Under these arrangements, employers receive the money from the Government and they must pass it directly on to the employee, along with a payslip that provides details of the payment.
Requests for flexible work arrangements
Employees who have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and who meet certain criteria can request flexible work arrangements in order to meet their outside obligations. The criteria includes having school-aged children (high-school age included), being aged 55 or older, acting as a carer, having a disability, or experiencing domestic violence.
‘Flexible work arrangements’ might refer to changes to start and finish times, job-sharing, split shifts, and / or working from home. Employers are not obliged to agree to the requests but they do need to explain their reasons for refusal. Acceptable reasons for refusal might be where the arrangements are too expensive or impractical to implement, where they might cause a loss in productivity or efficiency, or where they may impact on services provided or on other workers. In any case reasonable requests should not be dismissed without consideration and should be accommodated where possible. All requests must be responded to within a period of 21 days.
Workers (including contractors and volunteers) may be able to bring a case to the Fair Work Commission if they consider that they are being bullied in the workplace. While compensation cannot be provided by the Commission, binding orders can be made on the employer or other employees if required.
‘Bullying’ refers to repeated and unreasonable acts that are a threat to health and safety. One-off acts of rudeness, minor conflicts and annoyances, and reasonable management or disciplinary actions would be unlikely to fall into the definition of bullying. Internal resolution and prevention of bullying by employers is encouraged.
Consultation regarding change of work hours
When employers wish to alter any of their workers’ ordinary hours or work or roster they must consult with the employee and hear and consider their view on the matter. Workers who consider the new working arrangements to be unfair may be able to bring a case to the Commission.
Other amendments revolve around changes to business entry rights and powers for organisational officials, new time-frames for unlawful termination applications, and updated superannuation terms. You can find out more about the Fair Work Act here. The Fair Work site also has a number of Fact Sheets and Best Practice Guides available from here.
Also see our other articles on healthy workplaces here.
Written by Tess Oliver
Tags: employees, legal