Commission shoots down worker's permanent flexible work arrangement request

Decision upholds employer's organisational needs over his personal circumstances

Commission shoots down worker's permanent flexible work arrangement request

The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission recently dealt with a worker’s appeal that his employer’s decision to reject a permanent flexible work arrangement (FWA) for him was unfair and unreasonable.

The worker, Dr. Amit Sutaria, works for Queensland Health as a principal dentist in oral health services. He appealed the decision of the chief executive of the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service (GCHHS), which approved a temporary FWA but rejected a permanent change to his working hours.

The worker argued that the denial of the request for a permanent change to working hours is based on unreasonable grounds, including interpersonal issues with line managers, disparities in treatment compared to other dental officers, and a perceived lack of commitment to extending the temporary arrangement.

In response, the employer said that all employees, including the worker, are expected to fulfill the full inherent requirements of their roles.

It also pointed out “that flexible work arrangement requests are considered on a case-by-case basis, and those in senior roles, like the worker, must be evaluated in the context of operational requirements to ensure uninterrupted clinical service delivery.”

The employer said that it is “fair and reasonable” to prioritise clinical coverage requirements and ensure the full inherent requirements of the worker's role are met.

Worker’s family responsibilities and passion

According to records, the worker said that his wife had provided the majority of care for their 10-year-old son and that after 10 years as a “housemaker,” she had decided to enrol in a certificate course and wished to return to the workforce in a part-time capacity.

He argued that if his FWA request to permanently work 10-hour shifts over eight days a fortnight was approved, he would be able “to provide more parental care to his son and also support his wife’s goal to return to work.”

He also said that he used to regularly participate in theatre performances until November 2018 and an FWA would help with his work-life balance and help him
“to follow his passion for the theatre again.”

FWA’s impacts on the workplace

As for his FWA’s impact on the workplace, the worker said he “cannot think of any urgent non-clinical tasks that need to be actioned on a regular basis if he is away from work for one day a week and says that tasks can wait until he returns to work.”

He said that “he has undertaken extensive work in upskilling his ‘line staff senior dentists’ for them to be able to perform any urgent non-clinical tasks when he is away from work.”

Moreover, the worker argued that urgent referrals must be actioned within three days, so there would be no additional workload issue for any other staff, as he would only be away on Mondays or Tuesdays if his FWA request was approved on a permanent basis.

He added that there were arrangements currently in place to deal with urgent matters when a staff member was not present in the workplace.

The employer’s prerogative

The Commission noted that “all flexible work arrangements, while ongoing, are reviewed on a regular basis per the policy.”

“This is because a flexible work arrangement must ‘ensure ongoing suitability for the employee, the work team and the organisation,’ recognising that the circumstances of employees, teams and work areas change over time,” it said.

“While the FWA policy is framed in positive terms and places an onus on decision-makers to attempt where possible to accommodate reasonable requests, the priority of the organisation must be to balance FWA requests with the need to meet clinical responsibilities and ensure that any FWA does not result in a negative impact on the workplace or service provision,” it added.

Thus, it found that the employer’s decision to reject the worker’s permanent FWA request was reasonable due to the operational needs of the organisation. However, it said that further review may be discussed by the parties. Consequently, it affirmed the employer’s decision.

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