Part time workers are afforded special protection in employment legislation and it is not permitted to treat them any differently from full time workers on the sole basis that they only work part time.
Part time workers have the same statutory rights as their full time counterparts, but they also have a right to the same contractual entitlements too. This does not mean that part time workers must receive the identical level of benefit as full timers, but they are entitled to receive the benefit on a pro rata basis. The pro rata principle works on the basis that the amount of bonus given to a full time employee is reduced proportionately in line with the hours worked by the part timer in comparison with the full timer. For example, if a full time employee works 40 hours a week, and a part timer works 20 hours a week, the amount of bonus given to the part timer would be half the amount of the full timer’s entitlement. Even if the provision of a bonus is not a contractual entitlement, but a matter at your entire discretion, this should still be provided on a pro rata basis.
Of course it is not required that this approach is taken; an employer can decide to give the same amount of bonus to all employees regardless of their working hours. However, to fail to give the part time employee a bonus in this situation could leave you liable to a tribunal claim. Furthermore, being secretive about your actions is likely to anger your part time staff even more because you cannot guarantee that they will not find out.
The legislation does contain an exception to providing pro rata benefits where the non-provision can be objectively justified. This means that not paying the benefit would have to be a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim i.e. showing that it was necessary and appropriate to meet a legitimate business objective. However, it is extremely unlikely that this would apply to your situation.
If you cannot afford a bonus for all of your staff, it would be wise to re-evaluate the giving of a bonus at all. You should not discount the contribution of these staff because, without them, your business may well be less flexible than it currently is. They may even create a more efficient contribution to your team when considered on a pro rata basis. An added element to your situation is the risk of a sex discrimination claim. It is a well known fact that women make up more of the part time workforce in the country, and if this statistic is reflected in your business, your actions would be disproportionately disadvantaging women. This is a sound basis for an indirect sex discrimination claim.
If the bonus scheme is identified as a contractual entitlement for all of your staff, and you do not then honour this entitlement, you will be deemed to have breached the contract of employment, for which an employee may make an additional claim. You should therefore consider any documentation that currently exists in relation to your bonus scheme.
For further information or advice please contact Peninsula’s Advice Service on 0844 892 2772