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How to remain fair and compliant with part-time worker rules

How to remain fair and compliant with part-time worker rules
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The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic saw a shift in employees’ priorities, with many more wanting to submit flexible working requests to improve their work-life balance, including requests to reduce working days and hours or adopt part-time shift patterns.

Others may have been forced to decide between reducing their working hours or face redundancy action due to the decrease in demand for certain roles and the widespread closure of businesses because of the different lockdown restrictions.

Either way, alleged unfair treatment of part-time staff has led to an increase in claims relating to part-time working regulations of more than 767 per cent. This is the sharpest rise in tribunal case topics over the past 18 months.

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So, what exactly is a part-time worker? In UK employment law, a person who works part-time is anyone who works less hours than expected of a full-time worker in the same organisation.

While full-time work is usually 35 hours per week, individual organisations can set their preferred full-time working arrangements. As such, it is possible for an employee to work 35 hours per week yet still have part-time status, if the full-time equivalent for their role is 40 hours per week.

Why has there been an increase in part-time worker claims?

The rise may be attributed to the increase in the number of part-time workers because of Covid-induced reduced working hours. Or it may be that part-time workers are generally raising more complaints that they are being treated unfavourably during redundancy selection, enforcing changes to terms and conditions or TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings [Protection of Employment]) processes.

Whatever the cause, the tribunal statistics act as a warning to employers that part-time workers are protected by law under the Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000.

Workers can claim compensation through the Employment Tribunal if they are dismissed or subject to less favourable treatment or detriment because of their part-time working hours. Where relevant, these claims can be made in addition to other unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal and/or discrimination claims.

Why might a part-time worker make a claim?

There are several different claims part-time workers can make, including receiving a lower hourly pay than their full-time equivalents; not being considered for promotions that are offered to full-time staff; not being given the same benefits, like a company phone/laptop or travel allowance; being considered for dismissal before full-time staff are; and not having the same contractual entitlements, like enhanced annual leave or sick pay.

To make a claim, the employee must be able to establish that they work part-time and have been treated less favourably in terms of their contractual entitlements or by being subjected to a detriment.

They also must be able to show that the treatment was based on their part-time status and identify a comparable full-time worker who did not experience the same situation. An appropriate comparator will be someone who is employed by the same employer on the same type of contract at the same establishment, and, engaged in the same or broadly similar work (for example, in terms of skill, qualification and experience).