Part-time working is becoming increasingly popular for a number of reasons; the current economic climate has meant people may need to take on more than one job and the flexible working experience from the pandemic forced employers to change and reconsider their traditional working patterns, leading managers to be more willing to agree to part-time arrangements.

Businesses facing recruitment challenges may well find that offers of part-time working will attract the economically inactive amongst older workers and individuals who are looking for a different work/life balance (whether through choice or demands, such as caring or family dynamics). The Government has hinted at plans to try and invigorate the economy by putting incentives in place to entice the older population to come back out and work.

It is often argued that part-time working would improve gender diversity but this has been faced with resistance particularly for senior appointments. Recently, Zurich Insurance reported a five-fold increase in female appointments following a policy decision to advertise all roles as open to part-time and flexible working. The insurer also saw 45% more women appointed into senior roles since this policy was introduced.

Part-time working with the right to request flexible working is set to become a day-one right. This means candidates, as well as current employees, could request part-time working.

Obligations and legal considerations

Employers and HR practitioners must be mindful of the following factors when discussing part-time working arrangements:

  1. Under the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000/1551, part-timers must not be treated less favourably because of their part-time status; for example, assuming their level of contribution is less and awarding a lower pay rise as a result would be unlawful.
  2. Consideration must be given to rewards and benefits. In principle, it would be unlawful to refuse to extend the same benefits (despite the potential costs) and the law expects employers to pro rata these entitlements.
  3. Detrimental treatment of a part-timer could result in a legal complaint: for example, denying access to training or selecting a part-timer ahead of a full-time employee in a redundancy selection exercise. As well as being contrary to the Regulations, such treatment could also be indirect sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 because, according to statistics, part-timers are predominantly women. Disadvantageous rules or conditions would be difficult to justify or defend. Similarly denying a part-timer promotion because you are seeking a full-time person could be problematic and may be considered unlawful.
  4. Rules around overtime working (for example, when do overtime rates apply?), holiday accrual, and holiday pay as statutory holidays may be better or worse depending on the days of the week worked and need to be addressed.
  5. The Government has just opened a consultation about the calculation of holiday and holiday pay for part-year and irregular-hours workers. In some cases, their holiday pay may actually be higher than others. The outcome of this consultation could negatively impact on some part-timers.
  6. Special consideration is needed where a part-time arrangement is in place or needed due to a significant health condition or disability. Additional rights apply here, including the duty to make reasonable adjustments and accommodate. Often these disability-related rights will have priority over other part-time requests.

As part-time arrangements increase, job-share arrangements (where two (or more) part-timers split a role and responsibilities between them, with a handover or agreed split of tasks across the full-time equivalent post) may also look more attractive to employees. These arrangements can be advantageous, maximising skills and appealing to more candidates but require careful management:

  • Each individual in the shared role, although aligned, must be treated according to their individual merits, even though performance and output will be affected by the co-working arrangements.
  • What if one partner is excellent but the other is a poor performer? It is advisable to have a written policy in place outlining what steps will be taken in such a situation to avoid discrimination claims. The contract terms issued to both employees should also address the position where one job-share partner leaves the business.
  • Managers need to undertake job matching carefully, for example by building in trial periods. This will ensure the best fit is found for the role.

As well as contractual terms, part-time working will impact on earning levels; thus, pension arrangements, contribution levels and other flexible benefit or salary sacrifice schemes require special consideration for part-timers in their design and roll-out in the workplace.

If you have questions about the working arrangements of part-time workers, please contact Audrey Williams.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.