Employee rights around working hours and conditions in Australia

The health, safety, and work-life balance of all employees in Australia are protected by a number of rights. Here are a just a few you should be aware of:

To find a comprehensive list of your rights pertaining to health, safety, and work-life balance, visit the government’s website.

The right to fair working hours and conditions

A maximum number of weekly hours is included in the National Employment Standards (NES). This rule applies to all employees covered by the national workplace relations system, regardless of any award, agreement, or contract.

What are the maximum weekly hours of work?

An employer must not request or require an employee to work more than the following hours of work in a week unless the additional hours are reasonable:

  • for a full-time employee, 38 hours or
  • for an employee other than a full-time employee, the lesser of:
    • 38 hours
    • the employee’s ordinary hours of work in a week.

Can I refuse to work additional hours?

Yes, you can if the additional hours are unreasonable. For a comprehensive list and clear understanding of the factors to consider when determining whether hours are reasonable or unreasonable, visit the government’s website.

The right to request flexible working arrangements

Who has the right to request flexible work in Australia? 

Despite the common misconception that it’s only available to parent and carers, there are a range of employees who have a legal right to request flexible working arrangements.

This entitlement belongs to employees who have worked with the employer for at least 12 continuous months and are requesting because of one of the reasons listed below. It also belongs to long-term casuals who have a “reasonable expectation” of continuing employment with the employer on a regular and systematic basis. 

The government’s website states that an employee may request a change in their working arrangements from their employer if they require flexibility because they:

  • are the parent, or have responsibility for the care, of a child who is of school age or younger

  • are a carer (within the meaning of the Carer Recognition Act 2010)

  • have a disability

  • are 55 or older

  • employees, or a member of their immediate family or household, experiencing family and domestic violence

  • provide care or support to a member of their immediate family or household, who requires care or support because they are experiencing violence from their family.

  • employees who are pregnant.

What is flexible working?

At its best, flexible working allows employees to work within hours, patterns, or locations that suit their needs. The result of flexible working is a healthy work-life balance, which means employees bring their best selves to work — wherever that may be. 

Common types of flexible working arrangements: 

  • Remote working: performing a role at home or somewhere else offsite, such as a café or co-working space.
  • Job sharing: when two or more employees share the hours of one full-time position.
  • Flexitime: this can be simply setting their own start and finish times or having complete autonomy over how and when they complete their weekly workload.
  • Part-time work: the most popular form of flexible working, these employees perform and are paid for fewer hours than those in full-time roles.
  • Semester-time work: allows employees to take paid or unpaid leave during the school vacation (in addition to their normal paid time off).
  • Compressed working hours: reallocating the working week into fewer but longer blocks of time, such as working longer hours Monday to Thursday in order to gain Friday off.
  • Reduced working weeks: abandons the traditional five-day working week and sees employees work fewer days for the same pay. For example, WORK180 employees get every other Friday off — at full pay!

How to request flexible working arrangements?

An employee’s request for flexible working must be made in writing. It must also include clear details of the change required and a reason why. Equally, the employee must be provided with a written response within 21 days of the employer receiving their request. 

Note: employers do have the right to refuse this request, but it must be due to reasonable business grounds. This reason must also be included in the written response to the employee. 

To find more tips on how to ask for flexible working, create a free WORK180 account and download ‘The ultimate guide to negotiating flexible working conditions’. 

Employers can also read our ultimate guide to offering best and next practice flexible working policies.

The right to request to convert from casual to permanent work

What is a casual employee?

The Fair Work Act defines a casual employee as someone who;

  • is offered a job;
  • the offer does not include a firm advance commitment that the work will continue indefinitely with an agreed pattern of work;
  • and they accept the offer knowing that there’s no firm advance commitment and become an employee.

Entitlements of a casual employee 

The government’s website states that casual employees have several entitlements:

  • Access a pathway to becoming a permanent employee
  • Two days unpaid carer’s leave and two days unpaid compassionate leave per occasion
  • Ten days paid family and domestic violence leave (in a 12- month period)
  • Unpaid community service leave.
  • If certain eligibility requirements are met, the right to be offered the option to convert to permanent employment (either full-time or part-time) 
  • The right to require flexible working arrangements and take unpaid parental leave, if they;
    • have been employed by their employer as a casual employee on a regular and systematic basis over at least 12 months;
    • are reasonably expected to continue being employed by the employer on a regular and systematic basis.

Entitlements for casual employees do not include paid days off, notice of termination, or redundancy pay.

The information on this page has been compiled on the basis of general information current at the time of publication. 
Please note that the contents of webpage and any information provided by WORK180 do not constitute legal advice and are not intended to be a substitute for legal or other professional advice and should not be relied upon as such.

Your specific circumstances or changes in circumstances after publication may affect the completeness or accuracy of this information. You should seek legal advice or other professional advice in relation to any particular matters you or your organisation may haveTo the maximum extent permitted by law, we disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions contained in this information or any failure to update or correct this information. It is your responsibility to assess and verify the accuracy, completeness, currency and reliability of the information on this website, and to seek professional advice where necessary.