Part-time workers are a vital part of many UK businesses. This is because part-time hours can allow for more flexibility and a better work-life balance.
Despite working fewer hours than a full-time worker, part-time workers still have many of the same rights. This means that they should be treated the same way as any comparable full-time worker who does the same or similar role.
In this guide, you will learn about part-time workers' rights, the responsibilities you have as an employer and the risks of treating part-time staff less favourably.
What is a part-time worker?
There is no set number of hours that makes someone a full or part-time worker. Full-time hours are dependent on your industry or job role. Therefore, a part-time worker is anyone who works fewer hours than a full-time worker - whatever that means for your business.
Part-time workers are protected against less favourable treatment from their employers. This means that they cannot be penalised for working less than full-time hours under the Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000.
Treating part-time workers less favourably could also lead to you being brought to tribunal for workplace discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
Benefits of working part-time
The reasons behind working part-time hours can vary from person to person. It may be that the employee has a different work-life balance than most and may need more flexible working arrangements.
Part-time work can fit better around their childcare commitments or may help employees adjust after returning from maternity or parental leave. They may also work multiple jobs and need to adjust their working pattern to suit this.
Job sharing is a part-time working pattern. It's when two or more employees take on part-time hours to complete one job role.
The job can be divided in any number of ways to best suit everyone's circumstance so that collectively they complete full-time hours. Employees choosing to job share could be a solution to a flexible working request.
What is less favourable treatment?
Less favourable treatment could refer to how fair the terms are in your contract or how you are treated in the workplace.
This means that a part-time employee should not be any worse off than a comparable full-time worker for:
- Pay and leave - including holiday, sick pay, maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay.
- Pensions and benefits.
- Training and career development opportunities.
- Promotions, career breaks and job transfers.
- Redundancy selection and pay compensation.
Part-time employees are also eligible for other workplace benefits such as health insurance schemes, gym memberships or other staff discounts.
Rights under the Equality Act 2010
Sometimes more than one area of law can affect an employee or worker. In some cases, part-time employees may have additional rights under the Equality Act 2010.
Another example could be if a part-time worker receives less favourable treatment than a full time employee of the opposite sex. In this instance the employee may have a claim for direct sex discrimination or an equal pay dispute.
The pro rata principle
When calculating part-time employee benefits, you may need to apply a 'pro rata principle'. Put simply, this means that part-time employees should receive a proportion of pay and benefits that corresponds with how many hours they work. This will be in comparison to their full-time colleagues.
Some employers choose to pay their employees more for working over their contracted hours. This is referred to as overtime pay.
Part-time workers are not entitled by law to premium overtime rates until they have worked the same total number of hours that a full-time worker would need to for the same rates.
This means that you are entitled to set the same hours threshold for enhanced overtime pay as full-time workers. However, this is dependent on your company's policies and employment contract.
Enhanced overtime pay may also be given to part-time workers if they need to work at unsociable hours, for example late at night. However, this is only available if full-time workers would also receive overtime pay for the same shift.
Holiday entitlements for part-time workers
The amount of annual leave that part-time employees receive depends on how many hours or days they work. However, this can differ if you have any extra or alternative arrangements with your employer.
You can calculate how much annual leave a part-time worker is entitled to by multiplying the number of days they work by 5.6.
For example, if you work 3 days a week you are entitled to 16.8 days of paid annual leave per year. However, if full-time workers are entitled to more than statutory annual leave then part-time employees must receive the same proportional benefit.
There may be some instances where an employee's holiday entitlement includes 'part days'. For example, if an employee works two days a week they will receive 11.2 days of annual leave. In this instance, it will be up to you to decide how that is taken.
Employers cannot round down part days but they also don't have to round them up to the nearest full day. Instead, you could encourage your part-time workers to leave early or come in slightly later than usual.
Bank holiday entitlements for part-time workers
You may have some part-time workers that don't work on Mondays or Fridays. Because most public holidays fall on these days they will likely miss out on a lot of bank holidays throughout the year.
To ensure that part-time employees are treated fairly, you can use the same pro rata approach to calculate bank holidays. However, this is not mandatory.
Bank holidays don’t have to be pro-rated as long as part-time employees still receive 5.6 weeks of annual leave on a pro-rata basis. There is no statutory right to time off during bank holidays. Whether your employees are entitled to this benefit will depend on the wording of your employment contract.
For example, if full-time workers work 5 days a week they may receive 8 bank holidays per year. If part-time employees work 2 days a week they should receive two-fifths of this amount.
Sick pay entitlements
Both part-time employees and their full-time colleagues, can qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP). For a member of staff to qualify for sick pay they must:
- Be an employee.
- Have earned an average of at least £123 per week (before tax).
- Have been sick for at least 4 days in a row.
- Have followed the company's rules for reporting sickness.
Statutory sick pay is currently £99.35 a week and can be paid for up to 28 weeks. Check your employment contract before making any payment. You may have an Occupational Sick Pay (OSP) scheme in place which entitles staff to more than just SSP.
When can you treat part-time workers less favourably?
There are some occasions when an employer can treat part-time staff less favourably. This is as long as the reasoning is objectively justified.
For example, an employer may choose to not provide health insurance to staff on part-time hours. This may be because the cost is disproportionate to the benefit that a part-time worker would be entitled to.
What if a part-time worker has been treated less favourably?
If an employee feels like they have been treated less favorably, they might make a claim. To do this, a part-time worker must be able to prove that they have been treated less favourably than a full-time worker who:
- Works for the same employer.
- Works under the same type of employment contract.
- Engages in the same or broadly similar type of work.
- Has a similar level of skill experience and qualification.
They will likely discuss their experience with a trade union representative or directly with their line manager. After they have submitted a written statement you will have 21 days to respond to their claims.
Proving less favourable treatment
For a claim to succeed a part-time worker must be able to provide evidence of less favourable treatment.
They can do this by showing an example of a full-time worker in the same job position who is currently receiving better treatment. Part-time workers cannot compare themselves to full-time workers that are more senior or do a higher-skilled job.
However, if an employee is on a zero-hour or a fixed-term part-time contract they can compare themselves to a full-time employee. This is because fixed-term part-time contracts are not considered different from permanent contracts.
If a part-time employee previously worked for you full-time and has since received worse terms and conditions, they could make a claim.
In this instance, instead of comparing themselves to a current full-time employee, they can compare their current situation to their previous full-time contract. This is especially relevant when managing staff returning from maternity or statutory leave on a part-time basis.
Employees have the right to a written statement explaining the reasons behind the suspected less favourable treatment. If they are not satisfied that the reason was objectively justified, they may take the case to an employment tribunal.
Get expert advice on part-time workers rights
Everyone deserves to be treated fairly in the workplace. No matter how many hours they work each week.
But sometimes it can be hard to ensure that everyone gets the employment rights that they deserve. If you're not completely aware of your responsibilities, you could soon see staff claiming that they are being treated less favourably. And this can quickly lead to costly tribunals.