The large increases in the number of peoples undertaking part-time employment has been well documented in the media since the onset of the recession, as people struggle to find full-time work.
Many others find that part-time work suits their circumstances better, such as students or working mothers. This article will look at the rights of these part-time workers. A part-time worker is defined as a worker who is paid (at least partly) by hours worked rather than for specific pieces of work, and who works fewer hours a week than a comparable full-time worker.
In general terms, part-time workers enjoy a full entitlement to most of the basic statutory rights, and a pro-rata entitlement to contractual rights and the remaining statutory rights (such as paid leave). Statutory rights are legal requirements and so must be observed by employers. Contractual rights are those which are in addition to the statutory rights.
Under the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000, part-time workers are entitled to the same contractual rights as full-time workers, but on a pro-rata basis. Contractual rights are derived from the employment contract and may cover additional paid leave, bonuses and access to training. There may be exceptions to the entitlement of part-time workers to equal pro-rata contractual rights if the employer can justify it on objective grounds. For instance, a company car cannot be divided on a pro-rata basis and the employer may decide not to give these to part-time workers if the cost is too high.
Should a part-time worker work additional hours above their standard amount, they will only receive an overtime rate of pay when they have worked the same number of hours as a comparable full-time worker. If the part-time worker works extra hours, but does not work enough extra hours to reach the normal full-time number of hours, these extra hours do not have to be paid at the overtime rate, and the employer can decide at what rate to pay these extra hours. Part-time workers should also receive any contractual holiday, maternity and parental leave on the same pro-rata basis as full-time workers. For instance, if full-time workers are contractually entitled to 6 weeks paid leave (30 days), then someone who works three days a week will be entitled to 6 three day weeks of leave, or 18 days. Access to these rights should be on the same basis for part-time workers – if, for example, additional contractual holiday leave becomes available after one year’s employment for full-time workers, the same should apply to part-time workers. In other areas, such as occupational pensions, there should be equal access for part-time and full-time workers.
If a part-time worker feels that they are being treated less favourably than a full-time worker in a comparable situation, then they may wish to raise this problem informally with their employer. If this does not resolve the problem, then the part-time worker may wish to consider alternative solutions, such as raising a formal grievance with the employer or making a claim to an industrial tribunal. A tribunal claim must be made within three months of the date on which the act which suggested less favourable treatment occurred. Tribunals are complicated areas which may require further help and advice.
Further information on the rights of part-time workers is available from your local CAB. Further guidance on the rights of part-time workers can be found on www.nidirect.gov.uk for employees and workers or for employers, www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk.
Adam Tinson is an Information and Policy Officer with Citizens Advice.