Changes in working hours and duties
Published 10 June 2020 | Updated 8 April 2021
Employers may need to change their employees' working hours to help manage the impacts of coronavirus. Employers may also want to make changes to the duties that employees perform.
The Fair Work Commission has varied some awards to increase flexibility during coronavirus. These changes may affect an employer’s obligations when changing their employees’ hours or duties. For more information, see Changes to workplace laws during coronavirus.
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Temporary changes to rules about changing working hours and duties
A number of unions and employer associations have applied to the Fair Work Commission to increase award flexibility to help manage the impacts of coronavirus.
For a list of all determinations that increase award flexibility because of coronavirus see Changes to workplace laws during coronavirus.
Enterprise agreement variations
Some parties to enterprise agreements are also applying to the Fair Work Commission to vary their agreements. This is to give extra flexibility to help address the impacts of coronavirus and may affect some rules about changing working hours and duties under those agreements.
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Changing an employee's regular roster or hours of work
If none of the temporary measures above apply, employers may still be able to change an employee's regular roster or hours of work. In most cases, to do this, they'll need to consult with their employees about the proposed change. Employers have to:
- provide information about the change
- invite employees to give their views about the impact of the change (including the impact on family or caring responsibilities)
- consider their employees’ views about the impact of the change.
Awards and enterprise agreements may also set out extra rules about changing rosters or ordinary hours of work.
Awards or enterprise agreements might also include rules about changing an employee’s start and finish times. For example, an employee’s start and finish times may be changed to avoid crowds during peak commute hours.
Some awards and enterprise agreements also allow an employee’s spread of hours to be changed by agreement between the employee and their employer.
- Hours of work – for information about minimum, maximum, averaging and spread of hours in your award
- Rosters – for information about rosters, including roster changes, in your award
- Find my award – to find out which award covers you.
Individual flexibility arrangements
Employers and employees may also have the option of entering into an ‘individual flexibility arrangement’ (IFA) under an award or enterprise agreement. An IFA allows an employer and employee to agree to change how certain terms in their award or enterprise agreement work to suit the needs of the employer and employee. An IFA can’t be used to reduce or remove an employee’s entitlements.
IFAs may be able to include changes to when an employee works. IFAs:
- only apply to an individual employee
- must be in writing
- are subject to a number of safeguards to ensure the agreement is genuinely made and the employee is better off overall.
For more information see Individual flexibility arrangements.
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Reducing an employee's hours of work
Reducing a full-time or part-time employee’s ordinary hours usually needs an employee’s agreement.
Employers should review relevant awards and enterprise agreements which may include rules about reducing hours of work, particularly for part-time or casual employees.
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Asking employees to work extra shifts or longer hours
An employee can work a maximum of 38 hours in a week unless an employer asks them to work reasonable extra hours. Overtime or other rates may apply to these extra hours.
An award, agreement, employment contract or workplace policy may also set out:
- maximum ordinary hours that are more (if reasonable) or less than 38 in a week
- penalties and overtime payments for working above the maximum ordinary hours
- different entitlements for full-time, part-time and casual employees
- guidance on what reasonable extra hours are.
Example: Working extra hours
Audrey is a retail assistant working 30 hours part-time at a large grocery store. The store has been especially busy recently and her employer has asked her to work an extra 20 hours a week.
Audrey speaks with her employer, letting them know she won't be able to work 20 extra hours because of her family responsibilities. After talking with her employer, they agree that she will work an extra 15 hours. This allows Audrey to help the business out during this busy time and allows her to meet her family responsibilities.
Audrey’s employer checks their enterprise agreement to make sure she’s paid the right penalty rates for her overtime hours.
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Changes to an employee's duties
In some circumstances, an employer may be able change an employee’s duties depending on the relevant:
- enterprise agreement
- employment contract.
Before directing an employee to change duties, the employer should make sure that the duties are safe and that the employee has any required licences or qualifications to perform the duties.
When an employee works at a higher classification, the employer usually needs to pay them at a higher rate. Employees who do some tasks below their usual classification should receive their usual pay rate.
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