A guide to managing requests for flexible work arrangements
The following approach to managing requests for flexible work arrangements will help principals comply with the requirements of the Fair Work Act National Employment Standard (NES) and Equal Opportunity legislation. These best practice steps can also help to build confidence that decision making is transparent and impartial.
Step 1 Systems and processes
- Provide access to adequate information regarding policy and processes.
- Make sure systems are in place to accept requests, provide written responses within 21 days (if circumstances prevent this, seek agreement from the employee), and record discussions, negotiations and decision-making.
Step 2 Written proposals
- Encourage use of the work-life balance self-assessment including an appraisal of how a flexible arrangement might work.
- Inform employees that they should submit written proposals and that a template is available for this purpose
- Process the written proposals appropriately.
Step 3 Assess the proposal and plan for a discussion
- Review the written proposal. Keep in mind that making a request can be stressful and may have arisen due to a personal issue.
- Use the Flexible Work Evaluation Template (available on the tab) to start assessing the proposal.
- Set out a plan for a meeting to discuss the proposal.
- Reread and make sure you understand the detail of the proposal.
- Refresh your understanding of the options available. Refer to — you may need to explore options other than those outlined in the proposal. Possible options may be found by looking at the roles of other employees.
- Clarify with the employee what is confidential and what can be shared with others — talk to others.
- Identify what would be a good outcome for the school.
- Refresh your skills if you think negotiation may be required.
- Write down your plan.
Scenario — understanding the reasons for the request
A teacher’s request for a transition to part-time work came as a surprise as she had no family responsibilities. This is a difficult case as the teacher holds a position of leadership and has a wide range of responsibilities.
It is important to explore the circumstances of the request, but not to pry. Getting to the underlying rationale takes skill and does require a level of trust between the principal and the employee. An effective way to do this is to discuss the employee’s self-assessment and explore whether the identified needs match the options requested. This will also help you to determine that the employee has thought through the work, financial and other implications of the request.
It may be possible to develop a solution which better matches school and personal needs than a transition to part-time work.
- the Flexible Work Evaluation Template (refer to the tab) can assist principals to evaluate proposals for flexible work strategically. It can also assist to plan for the discussion and make a decision
Step 4 Conduct a Meeting
Take the preliminary steps to:
- set up a time for a meeting which suits both of you and when you will not be rushed
- reflect on the fact that the request may be made in a context of a stressful situation. Consider ways to make the employee comfortable
- consider what the employee is trying to achieve by requesting flexible work options
- reflect on what you know about the employee’s work style
- consider how the request for a flexible work option will assist the employee to achieve a work-life balance
At the meeting:
- listen and actively show you are taking in what you are being told
- explore the details of the proposal and any other options you have thought of
- if some, or all of the request is unrealistic, indicate this and explain why
- if the meeting becomes a negotiation, consider what would be a good outcome
- indicate when a response will be given
Scenario — the proposal submitted is not workable
The proposal suggests that there are pressing reasons why a transition to part-time work is needed, but it does not provide any suggestions for a workable solution. Open communication is important. The employee needs to be:
- given feedback regarding areas in the proposal to be addressed
- assisted to think through the issues, and advised to talk with school leaders and colleagues
Practical tip — negotiations
The essential elements of principled negotiation are:
- separate the person from the problem
- focus on interests not positions
- look for solutions which involve mutual gain
- use objective criteria, including the , to promote a fair result
If negotiation is required:
- set a meeting time
- approach a negotiation with an open mind and seek to achieve a win-win result
Prepare yourself by:
- knowing your responsibilities under Department policy and legislation
- understanding the details of the proposal
- anticipating requests or arguments and preparing your response
- considering alternative options
- being clear about what you might approve and any associated limitations
- reviewing future options if approval is unlikely
- making notes before the meeting
Scenario — emotions are running high
When in negotiations, emotive statements are sometimes used.
For example, 'if you do not agree to my request, I will resign'.
One way to handle these emotive statements is to request the other party to be precise. For example, request a reply which requires precision.
'You mean, you will resign even if we can arrange for you to ... which seems to be one way in which the needs identified in your proposal might be addressed'.
Wait for an answer. It is harder to use emotional tactics if you are precise, calm, and constructively considering possible options to meeting the other party’s needs.
Step 5 Make a decision
- Be clear about what you are approving and any limitations or requirements associated with approval.
- Ensure decision making is informed by the guiding principles.
- the appropriateness of the flexible work option proposed
- the impact on student learning, with an understanding that this can occur in different ways
- parental expectations
- impact of the proposal on other employees
- how will you cover workload issues
- whether the proposal adequately covers potential concerns
- what support or opposition to the request exists
- operational management matters, including the number or proportion of part-time teachers already on staff
- communication and participation strategies
- level of resourcing required
- curriculum needs
- the impact on the team and timetables
- whether the arrangement will have an impact on the employee participating in the life of the school
- the impact it will it have on student access
- if the proposal relates to working outside normal hours, any access or security issues
- any occupational health and safety issues
- potential for a grievance or appeal
- the consequences for the employee of not approving the request
- do not deny a request just because of potential flow-on effects such as triggering a number of requests. Each case must be considered on its own merits
Practical tip — decision-making
Make these points become part of your decision-making process:
- thoughtfully examine the contents of the proposal
- consider whether there are viable, better alternatives
- if there is to be a trial period (usually a good idea) set milestones and criteria for review
- apply the 'spot light' test — how would all aspects of the decision stand up to external scrutiny?
Scenario — too many requests for the same day
- A teacher requests a change to 0.8 in order to have Fridays free, but there are already a number of part-time arrangements in place where teachers do not work Fridays. Accepting this request would pose timetable problems.
- The discussion needs to explore what objective the request is aiming to achieve. Is changing to 0.8 the best or only way of achieving this?
- The written proposal should address the realities of the school and show how the arrangement would work. What does it propose about Fridays and the consequent impact on the timetable?
- The guiding principles need to be applied, that is flexibility must support the achievement of school outcomes — how does the proposal address this?
- Locking in long-term agreements to a particular day is problematic. What other options are available?
Practical tip — reasonable business grounds
Legislation and Department policy require that any decision to refuse a request for a flexible work arrangement must be supported by ‘reasonable business grounds’. Although not legally defined, statutory guidance suggests factors for schools may include:
- number of persons to be disadvantaged versus number who would benefit
- impact on efficiency
- detrimental impact on student learning
- impact on parental expectations — ability to attract and retain students
- the circumstances in the school — particularly in relation to staff numbers, subject, timetable requirements
- work among existing employees
- insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
- inability to recruit additional staff
- inability to re-organise
- unwillingness of the person to consider alternative options which meet school goals and still support the person’s capacity to meet parental or carer responsibilities
- it is the principal’s responsibility to identify the business rationale supporting the decision (and if a grievance is lodged to provide supporting evidence)
Step 6 Communicate the decision in writing
- Inform the employee of the decision.
- Put the decision in writing and provide to the employee within 21 days of receiving the written proposal. If circumstances prevent this, seek agreement from the employee.
- If not approved, the written explanation must include the reasonable business grounds for the decision.
- If approved, discuss a trial period.
Practical tip — the importance of documentation
Documentation is important in relation to legal compliance and laying the foundation for trial arrangements or full implementation.
There are dangers in allowing informal arrangements. Written proposals and agreements are an essential part of successful flexible work arrangements in Victorian government schools and may be a legislative requirement. In developing a written proposal, employees:
- have the opportunity to do a self-assessment of their work-life balance needs
- work out what they can do in their personal lives to meet these needs
- identify precisely what available option, or combination of options, would best meet their needs
- work out how the proposed arrangement will support the achievement of school goals
- check the level of support for the proposal
- documentation is also essential if a grievance or appeal is lodged
Step 7 Where the proposal is agreed, develop a written agreement
- Confirm the arrangement with any team leaders who need to be involved in implementation.
- Clarify whether the agreement is full implementation or for a trial period.
- Complete the Flexible Work Agreement Template (available on the tab)
Parents are opposed to part-time and job share arrangements.
Parents understandably will be opposed to arrangements which they believe might disadvantage their child. However, if their experience of these arrangements is positive, they will be accepting. Some principals have had the experience of early opposition to such arrangements and then when they work well, find parents requesting that their child be placed in the job share teachers’ class. It is important that school leaders and teachers discuss the benefits of flexible work with parents.
Practical tip — sustainable levels of flexibility
To assess the optimum ratio of full-time to part-time staff to achieve sustainable student outcomes, or any saturation or tipping point which might hinder progress, you should:
- monitor the external supply of talent and assess what role flexibility could play in improving the school’s ability to attract talent
- monitor the impact of flexible work arrangements on the school’s performance, curriculum and management requirements. If there is evidence that the proportion of employees working in flexible arrangements is resulting in operational needs not being met, you may need to modify or decline further requests or review existing arrangements
Practical tip — flexibility at senior levels
An assistant principal’s request for a flexible arrangement (transition to 0.9) has been refused on the grounds that being absent for 1 day per fortnight will result in the management role not being carried out. The proposal detailed how the assistant principal’s absence from the school 1 day per fortnight could be managed. The proposal also cites a similar arrangement being used in a similar sized school.
There are a number of issues to consider:
- all employees (including those with leadership responsibilities) may request flexible work arrangements. Principals should make their requests to Regional Directors
- the same tests apply — are the grounds for refusal reasonable business grounds?
- does the proposal offer a workable solution?
- the Department is not bound by precedents (refer to the guiding principles). Flexibility is an option for all employees and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis
- the principal may have a case for this decision to be reviewed internally, which would be the first option, and then to pursue action though the Merit Protection Boards
Reviewed 03 April 2020