Family Friendly v Business Needs

Lamb v Bunnings Group Limited [2013] FWCFB 2698 (14 May 2013)

When parties include family friendly clauses in their agreements, it doesn’t mean the business has to subordinate its operational needs to employee’s preferences. This was at the centre of an appeal to a full bench in the Fair Work Commission, upholding an earlier decision to allow the company to roster the aggrieved employee contrary to his family responsibilities’ argument.

The problem arose when the retailer identified a small group of staff with particular expertise were not working at the most advantageous times for customer contact. The company went to considerable lengths and proffered numerous alternatives to try to bring these specialists to bear on a clientele that was more likely to shop on Fridays and Saturdays.

The employee argued he had a right under the enterprise agreement , specifically that the company “In setting rosters … will have regard for the family responsibilities and other significant commitments of warehouse team members..”. However the clause also said that the company had to look to “the operational requirements of the business and the need to be fair in its treatment of warehouse team members as a whole”.

The full bench essentially agreed with the company that senior management had tried a number of scenarios to try to accommodate the personal needs but the employee rejected all of them. Although it does not feature as a reason for the decision, it is highly likely this attitude played on the decision-makers minds. The language of the agreement is plain – all will be done to accommodate, but the business must function as a whole.

The important lesson from this case is to only include statements in enterprise agreements about family friendly policies if you have countervailing provisions to protect the business’ interests.