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Part-time workers

Part-time working is on the rise and it's an option that can suit both employers and staff who are seeking flexible working arrangements. The law on part-time working isn't complex but there are some points which need to be considered.
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There is no specific number of hours that makes one worker part-time and another full-time. A part-time worker legally just means any worker who works less than the normal full-time hours in that workplace. The rules apply to 'workers' which covers some consultants and contractors, as well as employees. For more information on the differences between workers, employees and consultants, read Consultants, workers and employees.

Part-time workers have specific legal protections prohibiting less favourable treatment as compared to full-time workers. This particularly impacts pay and benefits.

Part-time workers are also entitled to a written statement of reasons for any treatment that is less favourable than that of full-time workers. Where no justification for less favourable treatment is provided, part-time workers should first speak to their employer or trade union representative. They may then make a request in writing, to which their employer must respond within 21 days. Where the employer fails to provide a justifiable reason or the worker is not satisfied that the reason given was objectively justified, they may be able to bring a case to an Employment Tribunal.

Part-time workers are statistically more likely to be female than male. So, treating part-time workers less favourably may also be indirect sex discrimination. For more information, read Equal opportunities and discrimination.

The starting point is that a part-time worker should receive a pro-rated proportion of pay and benefits received by a comparable full-time worker, according to the proportion of full-time hours they work. These terms should be written into their Employment contract.

A comparable full-time worker is one who works for the same employer and at the same place, under the same time of contract and performing the same or similar work. Levels of relevant skills, qualifications and experience will be taken into account.

Holiday entitlement should be pro-rated but it is permissible to only give bank holidays that fall on the normal days of work of a part-time staff member.

For pay, it is generally a straightforward exercise to pro-rate the entitlements.

However, some benefits cannot readily be pro-rated, such as a company car, insurance benefits or gym memberships and employers sometimes simply withhold these benefits from part-time staff.

For benefits that are withheld from part-time workers, the employer will have to show that this is objectively justified. This may require showing that less discriminatory alternatives were considered but were not practicable. One route to consider is providing a pro-rated cash equivalent of the benefit. 

Sometimes part-time workers are viewed as less committed staff members or not taken seriously in the workplace because of their part-time status. This is unlawful and part-time workers should be given the same access to training, promotion and other opportunities as full-time workers.

Bear in mind that a request to work part-time may qualify as a statutory flexible working request requiring a formal process and response. It’s worth having a Flexible working policy in place to ensure that rights are upheld and obligations are met. For more information, read Flexible working. Even if it does not qualify as a flexible working request, there may be issues of sex discrimination to look out for.

Employees should not be selected for redundancy on the basis they are part-time and care should be taken to ensure that selection criteria are adjusted so that they are fair to part-time staff.

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