There is still much confusion in the small business sector around employers’ obligations when employees who are parents are looking to return from parental leave. There are many who still believe their employees can only take 12 months leave and when this is finished, they must return (and return to a full-time role). Not true! And if you were to take this approach with your employees, you may find that you are facing a number of breaches of the Fair Work Act. Each breach can attract fines of up to $54,000 for a corporation and $10,800 for an individual. Ouch.
When an employee wishes to take parental leave to become the main caregiver for their child, they are entitled to 12 months leave with the right to request an additional 12 months leave thereafter. On top of this, they have the right to request flexible working arrangements on their return. So what does that mean? It could be any of the following:
- Part-time roles
- Late start or early finish
- 9 day fortnight
- Job sharing
- Working from home
- 42 weeks work per year
If you receive a request in writing for flexible working arrangements, you need to respond to this in writing within three weeks – either accepting or giving your rationale for rejecting the request. In the past, you could reject such a request on ‘reasonable business grounds’, but what this really meant was that you would need to prove that this would cause you significant financial hardship.
Believe it or not, in most businesses, there is a place for flexible working – it can form part of your competitive advantage. For Employee Matters, it has meant that we are able to tap into a ‘gold mine’ of highly-talented and -experienced HR Managers.
Please note that on 27th November 2015, another obligation for employers was introduced by Fair Work, which states that employers cannot refuse a request “unless the employer has given the employee a reasonable opportunity to discuss the request”. This means that you need to have a conversation with the employee to understand the rationale around the Flexible Working request.
Simple things you can do to help you protect your business:
- Have a Flexible Working policy
- Invite an employee (in writing) to discuss their request – talk to them about it
- Proactively look to see if there is an opportunity to ‘make it work’ for both parties
Another tip is to stay in touch with your employees who are away on parental leave, with their permission of course. This will keep them informed about the workplace but still engaged during their absence.
Remember, employees are expensive to hire and it can take some time before they are fully productive. Research shows that businesses embracing Flexible Working and diversity outperform those that don’t. It might be worth you considering it too.