Part-time workers

The Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 make it unlawful for employers to treat part-timers less favourably than comparable full-timers in their terms and conditions of employment, unless different treatment can be objectively justified. 

Under the regulations, a part-time worker is a worker who works less than the normal hours for an organisation. A part-time worker will compare the terms and conditions of their contract with those of a comparable full-time worker. This is someone working for the same employer as the part-time worker, doing similar work, under the same type of contract. Workers who change from full-time to part-time hours can compare their terms and conditions with their previous full-time contract. This also applies to someone returning to work part-time after a period of absence, such as returning from maternity leave. It does not include those who have been away from work longer than 12 months.

As an employer, it is your duty to be aware of these regulations as it will make you a better employer and will also lend your business a good reputation as your workers can expect to be treated fairly. It should also reduce the threat of a worker claiming unfair treatment at work. The regulations apply to all businesses, no matter how many workers they have. Workers covered by the regulations include part-time employees working under a contract of employment and workers who are genuinely self-employed but who work for an organisation part-time. This could include agency workers or workers on a fixed-term contract. 

For pay and pensions, the regulations stipulate that the following applies to part-time workers: 

  • Should receive the same hourly rate of pay as comparable full-time workers;
  • Once they have worked more than the normal full-time hours, they should receive the same hourly rate of overtime pay as comparable full-time workers;
  • They should be treated the same as comparable full-time workers when calculating sick pay, maternity pay, the length of service needed to qualify for payment, or how long they will receive the payment for;
  • They must have the same access to pension schemes as full-time workers unless you can justify treating them differently.

For general employment matters, the following issues apply to part-time workers:

  • They should not be excluded from training because they work part-time. As far as possible, training should be arranged to take place at a time when all staff can attend;
  • The holiday entitlement of part-time staff should be in proportion to that of comparable full-time workers;
  • They should be allowed to take maternity leave and parental leave in the same way as a comparable full-time worker;
  • The criteria used to select workers for redundancy should be fair - they must not be treated less favourably than comparable full-time workers. 

Detrimental treatment is also illegal. You should not treat unfavourably a worker who has made a complaint against you under the part-time workers regulations. An organisation can only justify treating part-time workers less favourably if proven that it is necessary and appropriate to achieve a real business aim. 

Reorganising the hours of work is a contractual matter between employer and worker. However, in reorganising workloads, employers will need to avoid treating part-time workers less favourably than full-time staff. They should also be aware that in certain situations they may be vulnerable to claims for indirect sex discrimination. Similarly, previous or current part-time status should not itself constitute a barrier to promotion, whether the new post is full-time or part-time. Part-time workers should also be given equal opportunity to seek promotion. Not only is this an area where an employer could be open to a claim of less favourable treatment, but applying opportunity fairly will bring benefits to the employer.

The regulations do not cover external recruitment. However, if recruiting employers do not consider applications from those who wish to work part-time or job-share, then they will be limiting the field of applicants and may not recruit the best person for the job. They may also in certain situations be vulnerable to claims for indirect sex discrimination. 

As best practice, it is recommended that employers should review periodically whether the posts they are offering could be performed by part-time workers. When approached by an applicant who wishes to work part-time, employers should give consideration as to whether part-time work arrangements could fulfil the requirements of the post. 

When workers request to work part-time, it is helpful if the organisation has a procedure for handling their request. This could include some of the factors listed below. Even where a recognised procedure exists, there may still need to be a discussion focusing on the worker's tasks and responsibilities, and how a change in hours can fit in. This may require the employer and worker to invest time and effort in order to work out an arrangement that suits them both. A successful solution will ensure that the job gets done, and the morale of the worker is enhanced. 

Some of the factors to take into account may include: 

  • Does someone need to be present in this post during all hours of work? 
  • Can the post be filled as a job share? 
  • Is there a suitable candidate for a job share? Could one be recruited? 
  • Can all the necessary work be done in the hours requested? 
  • Can the job be redefined to make it easier to do part-time? 
  • Is there another job of similar level which the worker could do part-time? 
  • Is the change for a known period? 
  • How much would it cost to recruit and train a replacement if the worker left? 
  • What benefits would the organisation get from this arrangement? e.g. more commitment, keep a valued member of staff, lower wage bill, keep staff cover for peak periods;
  • Effect on the morale and commitment of other staff.