3 min read

Employer fined $20,882 for 15-minute dispute with an employee

By Brihony Tulloch

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has awarded 17 weeks’ salary worth $22,882 as compensation to an employee who was unfairly dismissed by her employer after she refused to sign her revised employment contract.

Ms Khutson was a full-time employee at Pay Per Click since November 2014. In late 2017 Pay Per Click tried to change Ms Khutson’s hours of work from 9am to 5pm with a 30-minute lunch break to 9am-5.30pm with a 60-minute lunch break.

Initially, Ms Khutson agreed to this change but advised her manager that it would affect her attendance at pre-paid pilates classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. She requested to leave at 5:15pm on those days and would shorten her lunch break by 15 minutes to compensate.

The employer refused and advised Ms Khutson that if she did not sign the revised contract, her employment would be in jeopardy. After she still refused to sign, her employment was terminated in November 2017 via email.

While the FWC found Pay Per Click guilty of unfair dismissal, this case highlights the importance of being open to flexible working arrangements in your workplace.

Employees may require increased flexibility in the workplace for a number of different reasons, and which type of flexible work arrangement is appropriate will depend on the circumstances of the employee and your business. However, as we can see from Khutson v Chesson Pty Ltd T/A Pay Per Click (2018), being open to negotiation with your employees regarding flexible working arrangements is very important.

What are the benefits of being a flexible employer?

Being a flexible employer involves creating a balance between building your business and supporting your employees.

Flexible work practices help to take pressure off your employees by allowing them to:

  • fulfil their family or carer obligations and responsibilities;
  • fulfil their study requirements;
  • save on travel costs and commuting times; and
  • enjoy a better work-life balance.

For your business, this can mean:

  • a more productive and enjoyable work environment;
  • happier and healthier employees who are less prone to stress;
  • reduced absenteeism, lateness and staff turnover;
  • increased employee motivation and commitment;
  • increased levels of customer satisfaction;
  • an increased ability for you to meet business demands, e.g. by helping your business to deal with varying workload levels;
  • reduced risk of your employees burning out physically and mentally;
  • improved workplace health and safety records;
  • a wider pool of candidates, allowing you to tap into a more skilled workforce;
  • an increased likelihood that employees will return from parental leave; and
  • savings on recruitment and re-training.

How do I know if the flexible working arrangement request is a good one?

Before approving any changes, you need to consider requests for flexible work arrangements carefully and on a case-by-case basis. To determine whether an arrangement is reasonable, take into account the following things:

  • The work that the employee does.
  • The employee’s parental or carer responsibilities, including the arrangements that will be required to enable the employee to fulfil them.
  • The timing of the request, e.g. how quickly the new arrangement needs to begin and how long it is required for.
  • How much the arrangement will cost, taking into account penalty rates, overtime, decreased production, additional equipment and training replacement staff.
  • What effect the arrangements will have on other employees and your business.
  • How not implementing the flexible work arrangement could effect:
    • the employee;
    • the employee’s workload; and
    • customer service.
  • Whether the employee can undertake safe work under the arrangement.
  • Whether other legal obligations will be breached by modifying the work arrangement, e.g. health and safety laws.

However, you should be aware that if an employee has a right under the FW Act to request a flexible work arrangement, it is unlawful to refuse this request unless you have reasonable business grounds for doing so.

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