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Agencies may organise their operations to meet business needs including relocating functions between offices and introducing rosters to provide extended hours of client service. These changes may create some difficulties for individual employees because of their commitments outside work. Section 65 of the Fair Work Act 2009 provides that in certain circumstances an employee may request a change to their working arrangements in writing to which the employer is required to respond within 21 days advising whether the request is refused or granted. These circumstances include where the employee is aged 55 or over and where the employee has responsibility for the care of a school age child. Such requests can only be refused on reasonable business grounds some examples of which are provided for in the Act.

In one case a mature age employee sought exemption from a roster introduced by the agency to ensure appropriate service to clients during extended business hours. The employee was seeking to work standard hours for a range of reasons including the stress of having to work rostered days that were longer than the standard 7.5 hours; having to leave home early to allow for an extended start; and for the impact on the employee’s health.

The Merit Protection Commissioner was satisfied that the agency had reasonable business grounds for refusing the employee’s request. These were that the rostering arrangements were designed to meet service delivery demand across the agency’s operating hours. Allowing an employee to work fixed regular hours would significantly impact on the agency’s ability to mobilise its workforce flexibly during periods of high customer demand and would have a disproportionate impact on the working hours of other staff working according to a roster. The Merit Protection Commissioner also noted that the employee’s managers had accommodated his preferences to the extent possible within the roster. Further the employee had not provided additional medical evidence, as requested, about the impact of working on a roster on his health.

The Merit Protection Commissioner recommended the decision under review be confirmed as fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

In the second case, an employee in a regional centre sought to start work 20 minutes early each day in the interests of efficient time management. This was influenced by the employee’s need to drive her child to a school based apprenticeship which started early. The employee was working in a client contact centre but was undertaking processing work rather than directly dealing with client inquiries. The proposal was refused by her managers on the basis that staff were not required at work until 10 minutes before client contact commenced. In her managers’ view, it would be inefficient for the employee to undertake processing work at the time she proposed commencing work as she would not be able to contact clients to clarify aspects of their case prior to client contact hours commencing.

The Merit Protection Commissioner was of the view that the agency had not provided reasonable business grounds for refusing the employee’s request, including because she had limited client contact and only a small percentage of her clients required contact by her. The Merit Protection Commissioner considered that the employee’s proposed arrangement presented a very low risk on the ability of the agency to provide the required level of customer service and meet customer demand and recommended that the decision be set aside.