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I have an employee with a child who has special needs. How can I arrange her working conditions?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010 | By Martin Nally

I have an employee with a child who has special needs. I’m happy for her to take time off for this but it’s eating into my business’ productivity. How can I arrange the working conditions in a smarter way to satisfy both our requirements?

 

It is great to hear that you are open to your employee taking time off to care for her child with special needs.

 

This is no doubt an incredibly difficult time for this employee. To have an employer who is open to being adaptive to their personal needs would mean a great deal.

 

Firstly, make sure you comply with the new requirements of the Fair Work Act and the National Employment Standards (NES). It is one of the set of 10 NES that relate directly to ‘Requests for flexible working arrangements’. The NES says:

 

“Requests for flexible working arrangements, allows parents or carers of a child under school age or of a child under 18 with a disability, to request a change in working arrangements to assist with the child’s care.”

 

Don’t keep it casual. You must formalise the arrangements as a condition of the NES and also it gives both parties certainty.

 

Set the ground rules and make sure both parties are protected and the interests of your business and the employee’s needs are taken into account.

 

The Fair Work Act sets out minimum standards:

 

Workplace flexibility:

 

  • Allows for request of change in working arrangements-hours, patterns, location.
  • Employees must be employed for more than 12 months.
  • Request to be in writing noting the change sought and of the reasons for the change.
  • Employer to consider person’s circumstances-parent/career responsibilities.
  • Employer to provide response in writing within 21 days.
  • If there was to be a refusal it must be based on reasonable business grounds, for example: financial, staff efficiency, productivity, customer service effects. The specific reasons must be placed in writing also.
  • You don’t have to create a new position.
  • You can consider the effect on other employees.

 

Given this requirement, it is recommended that organisations have a clear and transparent policy around this process.

 

On the basis you have a business to grow, you have to be open and direct with your employee but also, at the same time, make a legitimate attempt to accommodate the needs of your employee.

 

Keep in mind you don’t have to be a martyr about it either.

 

When looking at making changes to accommodate an employee’s flexibility request I suggest that straightforward conversations are best, making sure that all parties know:

  • what is going on
  • what deadlines might exist
  • what outputs are required and
  • what expectations you have if the wheels fall off plus
  • what back-up plan is needed (this may include working remote or varying hours to suit within reason)
  • letting other team members know that an arrangement is to be put in place to satisfy the employees requirements is sensible as well.

Be open, be flexible but also be firm. If it isn’t working don’t let it fester. Seek assistance as you are emotionally involved and financially involved.

 

Try changing the way you think about a ‘working day’. You may have a paradigm about what work might look like and as I have said before “face-time” may not be working for you.

 

Set up output expectations with timelines and perhaps your 9 to 5 regime might be thrown out the window. Particularly if the work required is not client/customer facing work.

 

I have several employees in my business who work flexibly and as long as they are responsive, productive and we are both fair it can work wonders.

 

Allow goals to be set and some freedom to deliver those goals in an agreed timeframe with known implications and watch out for the results.

 

Give permission to deliver in a flexible fashion and you will be delighted with the outcome.

 

Don’t underestimate the willingness of a ‘team’ to rally together to help accommodate the needs of another team mate.

 

This is great for the culture of an organisation and may give others an opportunity to do some different tasks in the workplace while sharing ‘the load’.

 

You might even find that the “special needs” cause worth supporting and build some energy around your company supporting that cause.