Flexible working, digital nomads, ‘WFH’: there are many different terms to describe the phenomenon that’s changing the geography of the modern office. Nowadays, ‘working’ doesn’t necessarily mean sitting at the same desk all day. We can work from our own homes, coffee shops, airport terminals, train journeys – wherever we can get connection.
Work-life balance, or finding a happy medium between daily living and work, is getting worse for Australians: according to the OECD Better Life Index, Australia ranks 30 out of 36 countries surveyed¹. Flexible working is one way to help restore this balance, and as an employer, a flexible working scheme could make your company look more attractive to potential applicants. This guide will help inform you of your choices and obligations as an employer when creating a working from home policy, and point you towards resources where you can learn more.
Working from home, or flexible working arrangements, are provided for under the National Employment Standards (NES) as part of the Fair Work Act 2009. These standards stipulate 10 minimum entitlements that must be provided for all employees, and the right to request a flexible work arrangement is one of them.
These arrangements can include:
According to the NES, an employee is eligible to apply for flexible working after at least 12 months of full-time or part-time employment with the same employer if they are one of the following:
In order to apply, an employee must submit a written application detailing their proposal and their reasoning behind it. As an employer, you must respond within 21 days with a decision.
If you refuse a request, you must have ‘reasonable business grounds’ to do so: you must be able to demonstrate that the proposed change would be detrimental to the business’ finances and overall productivity.
For clarification on what circumstances constitute ‘reasonable business grounds’, visit the Fair Work site’s information page here.
When writing your work from home policy, the more detailed you are, the better. You want your employees to know exactly how it will work and what to expect to minimise future confusion and misunderstanding.
Of course your policy should be tailored to suit your specific circumstances, but here is a brief checklist of main components to include.
Writing your flexible working policy Checklist:
Once you have approved an employee’s request, you both will need to work together to set up working from home rules that deliver a beneficial, productive arrangement. Here is a brief list of questions to ask yourself and your employee as you iron out the details (with space to add in a few of your own):
Does your company insurance policy cover business equipment (company laptops, smartphones, etc.) that’s taken out of office?
How will you and your employee keep in touch throughout the work day? Decide on a primary mode of communication – videoconferencing, email, phone calls, etc.
How will your employee keep in touch with your other employees? How will they stay a part of the team?
How often will your employee come into the office? Decide on what meetings or other business-related gatherings the employee is obligated to attend.
How will you make sure that your employee is keeping up with their workload?
What is considered a claimable business expense while working from home?
What happens should your employee require IT support while working from home?
How frequently will you review this working from home policy? Will you enforce a trial period to test the arrangement and if so, for how long?
For more information about employer obligations for flexible working arrangements:
For more information about creating fair workplaces:
For more information on the Fair Work Act 2009:
(see Chapter 2: Terms and conditions of employment, Part 2-2: The National Employment Standards, Division 4: Requests for flexible working arrangements)
For more general information about worker’s rights and responsibilities:
For more information on the National Employment Standards (NES):