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Working part time can be a good way of balancing your work and your personal commitments. If you work part-time, you have the right to be treated fairly in comparison to your full-time colleagues.
What a part-time worker is
A part-time worker is someone who works fewer hours than a full-time worker. There’s no specific number of hours that makes someone full or part-time, but a full-time worker will usually work 35 hours or more a week.
Benefits to working part-time
The reasons for working part-time vary from individual to individual. It may be that you want to have a different work-life balance, or you may have caring responsibilities. If you’re interested in changing your working patterns you might find it useful to read about flexible working and work-life balance.
Jobsharing arrangements are a special type of part-time work, where a full-time job is divided between two part-time workers.
The job can be divided in a number of ways to best suit everyone’s circumstances. For example, you could opt to work mornings and a colleague work in the afternoons. Alternatively, you could split the week between you, both working three set days with a hand-over period on one day of the week.
Jobshare offers the benefit to you and your employer of predictable hours. This gives you the chance to arrange childcare, for example, and they know there will always be cover for the job.
Term-time working is a type of part-time working where you can reduce your hours or take time off during school holidays. This allows parents to deal with childcare in a structured way and gives employers time to plan covering absence.
Employment rights of part-time workers
Part-time employees have the same statutory employment rights as other employees. You do not have to work a minimum number of hours to qualify for employment rights.
Part-time workers and ‘less favourable treatment’
According to the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations, part-timers must be treated at least as well as equivalent full-time workers, unless the reason they can’t be can be objectively justified.
An ‘equivalent’ full-time worker is one doing a similar job on the same type of contract. So you might be able to compare yourself to a colleague on the same team, or someone who does similar work to you on a different team.
If you have changed to part-time working in the same role, then you are able to compare your part-time conditions with your previous full-time contract. This also applies if you are returning part-time after maternity leave.
The regulations include temporary staff such as agency and casual workers, but part-time agency workers can’t compare themselves to full-time permanent workers.
The regulations, however, don’t stop employers giving better terms to part-timers. They may do this to encourage a more balanced workforce, but the employer will need to be sure that doing this is not against other discrimination laws.
Examples of how the regulations work
The regulations often mean that benefits must be ‘pro-rata’, which means that they should be in proportion to your hours. For example, if a full-time worker gets a £1,000 bonus, a part-time worker working half the number of hours should get £500.
Below are some examples of issues affected by the regulations. Remember that your employer can treat part-timers less favourably if this is ‘objectively justified’.
Rates of pay
Part-time workers must get at least the same hourly pay rate as a full-timer doing a similar job. If you’re a part-timer, your employer can set the same hours threshold for enhanced overtime pay as for full timers, so you might not get overtime pay until you’ve worked more than the normal hours of a full-time worker.
Pension opportunities and benefits
Full-time and part-time workers should have equal access to pension schemes. Other company benefits, like company cars, employee discounts and health insurance, should be given pro rata if possible. If this is not possible, your employer will have to decide whether to offer the benefit to everybody.
Training and career development
Part-time workers mustn’t be excluded from training and career development opportunities. Wherever possible, training must be organised at times that suits most workers and this includes part-time workers.
Holidays and bank holidays
All workers have the right to a minimum amount of annual holiday, which is in proportion to what full-time workers get.
Many employers give more than the statutory minimum amount of holiday and part-timers should be treated no less favourably.
Your employer can’t round down the number of days given, because this would be unfavourable treatment, but fractions of a day might be given as hours.
Your employer can control when you take your holiday so they can make you take bank holidays from this entitlement when they coincide with your working days.
Where your employer gives additional days off for bank and public holidays, the rights of part-timers may not always be clear.
If you work under a shift system where all full-time and part-time workers are equally likely to be scheduled to work on a bank holiday then it may be enough for your employer to give all part-time workers a paid day off.
However, if you work fixed days each week, such a practice could put you at a disadvantage.
For example, because most bank and public holidays fall on a Monday, those who do not work Mondays will be entitled to proportionately fewer days off.
In cases like this, your employer could give all workers a pro rata entitlement of days off in lieu according to the number of hours they work. Your employer can then control when you take your holiday, coinciding with any bank holidays.
Opportunities for career breaks
Some employers let employees take career breaks. If you’re a part-time worker, you have the right to the same opportunities.
Sick pay, maternity, adoption and paternity leave and pay
Part-timers are entitled to sick pay, maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay plus parental leave as full-time staff are. If companies give more than the statutory entitlement, part-timers must also get these contractual benefits.
Selection for promotion and transfer or redundancy
Being part-time can’t be used as a reason for selection for transfer, redundancy or refusing a promotion, unless it can be justified objectively.
What ‘objectively justified’ means
The rules set out above can be broken where there is objective justification for doing so. This means that the employer has to show that the reason is necessary and the right way to meet a genuine aim of the business.
Part-time workers can’t be treated less favourably just because they are part-time. It may not be possible to pro-rata some benefits to them, like complementary health-club membership for example.
In this situation your employer would have to decide either to give the benefit to both full and part time staff or, if there was objective justification not to give part time workers the benefit. In this example, the objective justification could be that the cost outweighs the benefit.
If you have been treated less favourably
If you believe your employer has treated you less favourably than a full-time worker then you have the right to receive a written statement of reasons for the treatment. You should put your request in writing and your employer must return the written statement within 21 days.
If you are not satisfied that this treatment is objectively justified, then you can make a complaint to an Industrial Tribunal against your employer.
If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them.
The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) and Advice NI offer free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues.