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In a study conducted by flexible working consultancy business, Timewise, 48% of workers said they would not trust a part-time colleague with an important or ‘business-critical’ task, whilst 49% believed that it was not possible to have a senior-level career, whilst working part-time.
Although this is a reduction from the 72% who responded in the same way in 2012, it serves to indicate a significant disparity from the reality of those who work part-time. Latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in May 2022 show that there are currently 8,097,000 people working part-time in the UK, an estimated one in four.
A separate report published by the ONS estimated that around 750,000 part-time workers are in senior and business-critical roles. This equates to around 9% of all part time workers, which lends some credibility to the views of the Timewise respondents that part-timers may struggle to have a senior-level career.
This sparks an interesting conversation concerning the perception of part-time workers and the work that is still needed to alter views that do not currently align with the reality of part-time working.
The part time workers regulations
There is statutory protection in place for those who work part time, in the form of the snappily titled Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000.
As the name suggests, the part-time workers regulations prevent employers from treating their part time staff less favourably on the grounds of them working part time, unless the treatment can be objectively justified.
What this means in practice is that it’s absolutely fine, for example, to pro-rate pay and most benefits by reference to the days/hours a part time worker actually performs, but to deny a part time worker a promotion because you think they won’t work as hard as a full time worker, will be in breach of the Regulations.
In practice, things aren’t usually that black and white, and in England & Wales if an employee can demonstrate that their part-time status is one of the reasons for being treated unfavourably, they may be awarded compensation by an employment tribunal. It’s worth noting that the way in which case law has developed means that in Scotland the test is more strict, and part time status has to be the sole reason for the less favourable treatment to fall foul of the Regulations.
Where an employer does treat a worker unfavourably on the grounds of their part time status, they may be able to defend any claims if they can show that the less favourable treatment was:
- aimed at achieving a legitimate objective
- necessary in order to achieve that objective; and
- an appropriate way of achieving that objective.
What does this all mean for employers?
With attitudes towards work/life balance undergoing a major shift since the pandemic, resulting in more and more workers looking for flexible working arrangements, allegations of unfavourable treatment from those who work part time are bound to increase.
Employers should ensure that business decisions involving part time workers are made on the basis of factors that ideally don’t include their part time status or, where they do, that there is a justifiable reason for the difference in treatment.
Employers should also look at their senior and business-critical roles and ask why there aren’t more part time workers occupying those roles, and should, or can, anything be done to address it? The answer might be no, but a business that’s asked itself those questions and already has the answers will be much better placed to protect itself against any allegations of unfavourable treatment if they do arise.