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.
A brief overview of working from home laws
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:
- Working from home or another location that’s out of the office
- Changing start or finish times
- Working longer hours to accommodate a shorter work week
- Splitting shifts
- Sharing one full-time job between two part-time employees
- Returning to work part-time and gradually building up to full-time by a fixed and agreed-upon date
- Taking an extra 4 weeks’ leave by receiving less pay
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:
- The parent, or has the responsibility for the care, of a child
- A carer (as defined by the Carer Recognition Act 2010²
- 55 years or older
- Experiencing family or domestic violence
- Providing care for a member of their family who is experiencing family or domestic violence
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.
How to write a working from home policy
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:
- Define exactly what you mean by ‘working from home’
- Stipulate who is eligible according to the law
- Clarify the factors you will use to assess whether an employee’s job can be done just as effectively from home
- Clarify the factors you will use to assess whether an employee’s working methods are suitable for home work
- i.e. someone who needs frequent supervision and guidance would not be an ideal candidate
- Detail the application process clearly
- How to make an application
- What needs to be included in said application
- Who they should submit their application to
- How the application will be handled once it’s been submitted (next steps)
- Go through the process for evaluating health and safety in the employee’s home and who will be in charge of organising this
- List how the flexible work set-up process will work if an application has been approved
- What assets or equipment the company will provide
- What assets or equipment the employee is expected to provide for themselves
- Who will pay for any installations or IT support
- Lay out the implications of working from home on taxation
- Detail company security policies
- Include what will happen should a remote worker leave the company to protect any sensitive data or information
Key questions to ask before and during set-up
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 employee have a suitable home environment to work? (Check for a reliable internet connection and phone reception, proper health and safety devices like a working smoke detector and carbon monoxide monitor, etc.)
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):