Part-time workers are an important part of many businesses. This is because they can lower company costs and increase diversity in the workplace.
However, part-time employees still have similar employment rights to their full-time colleagues. And as an employer, you should never treat part-time staff members less favourably than full-time workers.
In this guide, we'll discuss the different types of part-time workers, their legal entitlements, and what happens if you treat them unfairly.
What is a part-time worker?
A part-time worker is an employee whose normal hours of work are less than a full-time worker in the same role.
There are no set of hours that make an employee full-time or part-time, as this can differ between industry and job.
What is a comparable full-time worker?
A comparable full-time worker is an employee who performs the same work, or similar tasks to a part-time employee. Certain requirements must be met for someone to be a comparable employee.
- Someone who works for the same employer in the same industry or sector of employment.
- Someone who works in the same job, at the same location, but does more hours.
- Someone who is interchangeable in terms of work. For example, being about to fill in at short notice.
- Someone who does the same work under the same or similar conditions.
- Someone who does work of equal value or less value.
A common example of this is that a part-time sales assistant can compare themselves to a full-time sales assistant. This is because they do the same work in the same shop.
Different types of part-time workers
You need to be aware of the different types of part-time workers. Being familiar with them and their rights can ensure you act appropriately if you decide to employ them.
Let's discuss them in more detail:
Part-time agency workers
Part-time agency workers are employees who are paid through an agency, but work fewer hours than a full-time staff member. They can only compare themselves to full-time agency workers, and not full-time permanent workers.
Casual part-time employees
Casual part-time employees work part-time on a casual basis.
An employee is a casual worker if they have less than 13 weeks of continuous service, and aren’t in regular or seasonal employment, or if they're recognised as one in an approved collective agreement.
If employees share a job, they are deemed to have the same legal entitlements as a part-time worker.
You should make this clear to employees who are looking to job share. As it provides you with protection if there is a disagreement in the future.
A new law called the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2023 introduces a right to request flexible work for parents and carers.
Therefore rules are at the employer's must be aware of these rules.
Benefits of being a part-time employee
There are some benefits that come with part-time work. And as an employer, it's important you become familiar with them. They are:
- It helps to fit around childcare commitments.
- It helps to improve someone's work-life balance.
- It helps an employee that works multiple jobs.
What are the employment rights of part-time employees?
Employees of a part-time status are protected by the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001.
As an employer, it's vital you understand how the act works and how it protects part-time employees.
Not following the act is against employment law and can lead to complaints being raised to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). This can further lead to both financial and reputational damages for your company.
Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001
The Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001 is in place to protect part-time employees and casual workers in Ireland. The aims of it are to prevent discrimination and improve the working conditions for a part-time employee.
Failure to provide these rights to any employee can lead to complaints being made to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
Part-time employees should never suffer less favourable treatment
The act also explains that a part-time employee should never be treated less favourably than a comparable full-time employee.
Less favourable treatment of part-time employees is prohibited so a part-time employee doing comparable work should be paid the same wages for example as their full-time counterparts (pro rata to the part-time hours worked).
Can you ever treat part-time employees in a less favourable manner?
Yes, you can treat a part-time employee less favorably than comparable full-time employees if you have objective grounds (objective justification) to do so.
An objective ground is when the difference in treatment is necessary. This is because it achieves a legitimate objective of the business.
An example of this is not offering part-time workers access to health insurance, even though full-time workers do. An employer may be in a position to legally justify this due to the cost.
Pensions and part-time employees
All part-time workers should have the same access to pension benefits as a full-time employee.
You must remember that if a part-time employee works less than 20% of the comparable full-time employee’s normal hours - you don't have to provide them with the same pension benefits. But, this is under your discretion.
However as an employer, you can choose to provide both full-time and part-time employees with the same pension benefits.
Penalising a part-time employee
It's important to remember that you must treat part-time employees equally. Employers must not penalise part-time employees for exercising their rights under the protection of part-time workers legislation.
The following actions are examples of penalisation:
- Making unfavourable changes to conditions of employment.
- Treating someone unfairly. This includes redundancy selection.
You cannot penalise a part-time employee for the following reasons:
- After making a complaint regarding the employee's conditions of work that are illegal under the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act.
- For exercising the right to not be treated less favourably than comparable full-time workers.
- For refusing to agree to your request to change from full-time to part-time work.
Are part-time employees entitled to overtime pay?
Yes, an employer must pay a part-time employee for any overtime working hours they complete.
The rate of overtime pay should be included in your employment contract. However, providing your employees with increased pay for any hours worked as overtime isn't a legal requirement.
Providing your employees with the correct pay is an employment right and should never be broken. Doing so is against employment law and could lead to complaints being made against you to the WRC.
Can an employee ask to move to part-time work?
Yes, an employee who works full-time can request to move to part-time work in your company.
They may request part-time work for several reasons, such as:
- To improve their work-life balance.
- Due to specific circumstances outside of work. Such as health or family issues.
- Returning from maternity leave.
It's important you have a specific procedure in place to deal with any part-time working requests you receive. It should include any consultations or discussions that'll take place before a decision is made.
Refusing a part-time work request
If you decide to refuse an employee's request for part-time work, you must provide them with a reason for doing so. For example, accepting the request could lead to staffing issues further down the line.
However, you should take the following into consideration the following before refusing:
- Personal and family needs.
- The number of employees already working part-time.
- Any additional resources needed to meet part-time cover.
- The urgency of the request.
- How their revised working hours will fit in with the job and duties.
- Your equal opportunities policy.
Can an employee ask for part-time work after parental leave?
Yes, your employee is legally entitled to ask for part-time work after returning to work following parental leave.
Employers must give a response to the request within four weeks - but they're not obliged to accept it.
What happens if you don't treat part-time employees fairly?
Treating employees with part-time status unfairly is against employment law in Ireland. If your employees feel you're not respecting their employment rights, they may make a complaint to the WRC.
However, the complaint must be made within six months of the dispute. But, if there is a reasonable cause that prevents the claim from being raised within the time limit - an extension can be granted.
A complaint being raised can lead to both financial and reputational damages.
Get expert advice on part-time workers from Peninsula
As a business owner, you may have part-time employees in your business. Which is why it's important to remember they still have many of the same employment rights as their full-time colleagues.
You should never treat part-time employees less favourably than full-time staff. Otherwise, your business may face WRC claims, financial loss, and even reputational damage.