Significant increase in tribunal claims relating to part time workers

It has been widely reported that the onset of the pandemic saw a shift in employees’ priorities, with many more asking for flexible working to improve their work-life balance, many wishing to work part time.

But it also appears that alleged unfair treatment of part-time staff has led to an increase in claims relating to part-time working regulations of over 767% in the past year. This is the sharpest rise in tribunal case topics over the past 18 months.

According to UK employment law, a person who works part time is anyone who works fewer hours than expected of a full-time worker in the same organisation. Broadly speaking this might be someone who works less than 35 hours per week.

The increase in claims has been attributed to the increase in the number of part-timers in the workplace because of Covid-induced reduced working hours. These 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.

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, 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 have to be able to show that the treatment was based on their part-time status and identify a comparable full-time worker who didn’t experience the same situation.

To avoid the risk of claims, organisations should proactively take steps to support part-time employees and ensure they receive the same basic entitlements as comparable full-time colleagues. They should not select employees for contractual changes or make them redundant solely based on their working hours. Where redundancies are needed, organisations should apply a fair selection criteria across all of its affected employees, to objectively decide who should stay on and who should be made redundant.

Organisations should also remember that in situations where full-time workers become part-time workers (eg after accepting a flexible working request or enforcing a reduction in hours), employees are entitled to the same terms and conditions as their former full-time contracts. Essentially, the former contract serves as the full-time comparator when determining whether there is any less favourable treatment and will apply even when there is not a separate full-time comparator in post.

If you are evaluating your terms and conditions, ensure that you take advice from 121 HR Solutions to determine fairness across all types of employee.

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