Making flexible working work: 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.

It also means that a business is better able to adapt to changes in demand for its goods or services.

Given that some people would prefer to work part-time, a business that is looking to recruit will have access to a wider pool of candidates, often with good skills and experience.

Types of part-time working

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.

Most part-time posts involve working for parts of the week or day; this may consist of mornings or afternoons, or two or three complete days a week.

There are other ways of managing part-time work. These include zero-hours contracts where employees are available for work whenever their services are needed and where there are no set hours or times of work; job-sharing where two people are allocated a full-time position between them; and term-time work where employees only work during the school term.

Rules governing part-time employment

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.

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, bit only when they have completed more than the normal number of hours worked by a comparable 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, share-option schemes, discounts and health insurance.

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.