Taking on part-time employees
Many smaller businesses choose to employ staff on a part-time basis. This often has the advantage of controlling costs when there is no need for a full-time worker and of adding flexibility to the running of the business.
Part-time work is defined as that which involves a contract or agreement for an employee to work fewer than the normal basic full-time hours.
However, employers need to be aware that part-time employees have employment rights in the same way that full-time members of staff do. Should an employer treat a part-time employee unfairly, they can leave themselves open to a claim of indirect sexual discrimination. This is because more women tend to work part-time than men.
The Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations were introduced in 2000. The rules set down an employer's legal obligations to part-time employees.
In general, an employer must not treat a part-time member of staff less favourably than a comparable full-time member of staff. In other words, no less favourably than a full-time employee who also works for the same employer and carries out the same sort of duties on a similar contract of employment.
Part-time employees must have the same rights and benefits as full-time employees in relation to the hours they are contracted to work.
Specifically, the law says that a part-time employee must be paid the same hourly rate as a full-time comparable employee. They must be paid the same hourly overtime rate as a full-time comparable employee, once they have completed more than the normal number of hours worked by a full-time employee.
They must not be denied access to training because they only work part-time. They must be treated in the same way as a full-time employee when an employer is looking to promote staff or to make redundancies. They must have the same entitlement to annual leave, sick pay, maternity and parental leave on a pro rata basis as full-time colleagues. They must have an entitlement to such benefits as company pension schemes.
Where an employer treats a part-time worker less favourably than a full-time employee, they must show that it is necessary and objective. A company benefit, for instance, may prove to be disproportionately expensive for a part-time employee.
If a part-time worker considers they have not been treated fairly, they are entitled to ask their employer for an explanation in writing, which must be produced in 21 days. Should a part-time employee not accept the reasons as objective or justified, they can take their employer to an employment tribunal.