Employment Contracts

by Kate Russell

Part timers

Traditionally, part timers have had a raw deal in the workplace. They tended to have to work longer before gaining paid holidays or being eligible to join the organisation pension scheme, and they were often selected for redundancy before full timers.

Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000

The aim of these regulations is to ensure that part timers are treated no less favourably in their working conditions than comparable full timers, unless the less favourable treatment is justified on objective business grounds.

Protection against less favourable treatment extends to employees and workers, but not self-employed staff.

Useful guidance on how to approach work which is ‘the same or broadly similar’ was given by the House of Lords in Matthews and Others v Kent and Medway Towns Fire Authority [2006].

Claims under the Part-time Workers Regulations are limited to part timers employed on the same type of contract as their full-time comparator doing ‘the same, or broadly similar’ work. This is straightforward where the only difference between full and part timers is the number of hours worked. If the contracts or work are not identical, it is likely to be more problematic. However, differences in skills and experience or extra duties will not necessarily prevent a part-time worker claiming the same pay and benefits as a full-time worker where part timers can compare themselves with full timers on the ‘same type of contract’ who perform the same or broadly similar work having regard to similarity of qualification, skills and experience.

Example

The main responsibility of part-time fire fighters is the same as full-time fire fighters – to fight fires. The part-time fire fighters had less favourable terms of employment and sought to challenge these before the courts so that their terms were equal to those of full-time fire fighters.

A stumbling block to their claim was that the full- and part-time contract terms were different. Full timers worked shifts, whereas part timers committed themselves to the fire service for periods of training and on-call time each week, but had separate employment outside the service. Their main duties were the same, but full timers had more duties and training. Protection is offered where the work is the ‘same or broadly similar’. The tribunal decided the contracts were dissimilar because their terms were different. The House of Lords took a different view and stated that, when deciding whether work is the same or broadly similar, tribunals should look at the similarities in the work, rather than at the differences in the work.

The Lords said the legislation’s objective was to encourage part-time work and avoid less favourable treatment of part timers, so a broad-brush approach should be taken. The contract terms did not have to be identical – in fact, they were likely to differ. Both groups of fire fighters had the same type of contract, and the fact the terms were different did not prevent similarity.

Part-timers’ rights

The regulations introduced a range of new rights for part-timers, as follows:

  • Receiving the same rates of pay (including overtime pay), once they have worked more than the normal full-time hours
  • Not being treated less favourably for contractual sick pay or maternity pay purposes, or discriminated against over access to pension schemes or pension scheme benefits
  • Not being excluded from training simply because they work part time
  • Receiving holiday entitlement pro rata to that of comparable full timers
  • Having career break schemes, contractual maternity leave and parental leave made available to them in the same way as for full-time employees
  • Being treated no less favourably in the criteria for selection for redundancy.
Example

P worked part time for H Ltd. In January 2001, H Ltd told P that if she wished to remain in employment she would have to extend her working hours to full time as it had decided to reduce the number of accounting assistants to three full-time employees. P had three other colleagues performing the same job. They all worked full time and none them had been employed by the company for more than a few months. P offered to increase her hours to 32.5 hours per week (only five hours less than the full-time workers) but was unable to agree to work full time due to personal reasons. She was subsequently made redundant and complained to tribunal that she had been treated less favourably because of her part-time status.

The tribunal found that the company had unfairly dismissed P and that she had been treated less favourably than a comparable full-time employee on the basis of her part-time status. She was awarded £50,550 as a compensatory award.