Are you treating your part timers less favourably?

A recent case has brought the Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulation 2000 (PTW regulation) into the spotlight. This legislation makes it unlawful to treat part-time workers less favourably on the grounds of their part-time status, unless the employer can show that there is objective justification for the difference in treatment.

In the recent case of Forth Valley Health Board v James Campbell  the claimant worked fewer hours than some of his colleagues, and the key question was whether he had been treated less favourably on the ground that he was a part-time worker.

The employee was a phlebotomist, contracted to work for an average of 16 hours per week. This was on a six-week rota during which his shifts varied in length.  On weekdays he worked four-hour shifts without a break. He complained about this and pointed out that his colleagues, who worked over six hours on those same days, received a 15-minute paid break.

The health board rejected his complaint and pointed out that he did get the 15-minute paid break when he did six-hour shifts over the weekends.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that there had been no causal link shown between the shift length and part-time status. That meant there had been no basis in law on which it could be concluded that the difference in treatment between the employee and his full-time comparators was ‘on the ground’ that he was a part-time worker, far less that his part-time status was the sole ground for such difference in treatment.

The fact that he, like other workers, did receive the benefit of the paid break when working at weekends on shifts that were of six hours duration or more demonstrated that there wasn’t the necessary link with his part-time status for the claim to succeed.

In order to avoid disputes arising, employers should take steps to ensure that opportunities and benefits that apply to full-time staff are proportionately applied where possible for part-time staff. Not only can unjustified differences generate claims under the PTW regulation, but they might also trigger claims in respect of indirect sex discrimination given that statistically women might find it more difficult to work full-time hours.

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