Law guide: Workplace

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Part-time work

Part-time work

Part time work

Working part time can be a good way of balancing your work and your personal commitments. If you work part time, you have the right to be treated fairly in comparison to your full-time colleagues.

What is a part-time worker?

A part-time worker is someone who works fewer hours than a full-time worker. There's no specific number of hours that makes someone full or part-time, but a full-time worker will usually work 35 hours or more a week.

Why you might choose to work part time

The reasons for working part time vary from individual to individual. It may be that you simply want to have a different work-life balance, or you may have caring responsibilities. If you're interested in changing your working patterns, you might find it useful to read about flexible working.

Employment rights of part-time workers

Part-time employees have the same statutory employment rights as other employees. You do not have to work a minimum number of hours to qualify for employment rights.

Part-time workers and 'less favourable treatment'

According to the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations, part-timers must be treated at least as well as equivalent full-time workers, unless the reason why not can be objectively justified. An 'equivalent' full-time worker is one doing a similar job on the same type of contract.

The regulations include temporary staff such as agency and casual workers but part time agency workers can't compare themselves to full time permanent workers. The regulations don't stop employers giving better terms to part-timers, perhaps to encourage a more balanced workforce, but the employer will need to be sure that doing this is not against other discrimination laws.

Examples of how the regulations work

The regulations often mean that benefits must be 'pro-rata'. This means that they should be in proportion to your hours, so for example if a full time worker gets a £1000 bonus, a part-time worker working half the number of hours should get £500.

Below are some examples of issues affected by the regulations. Remember that your employer can treat part timers less favourably (that is, they can break the rules set out below) if this is 'objectively justified' - what 'objectively justified' means is explained later.

Rates of pay

Part-time workers must get at least the same hourly pay rate as a full-timer doing a similar job.

If you're a part-timer, your employer can set the same hours threshold for enhanced overtime pay as for full-timers, so you might not get overtime pay until you've worked more than the normal hours of a full-time worker.

Opportunities and benefits

Employers should not discriminate between full-time and part-time workers over access to benefits (such as company cars, employee discounts, and health insurance) which should be given pro rata if possible. If this is not possible then your employer will have to decide whether or not to offer the benefit to everybody.

Training and career development

Part-time workers mustn't be excluded from training and career development opportunities. Wherever possible, training must be organised at times that suit most workers, including part-timers.


All workers have the right to a minimum amount of annual holiday. The statutory minimum entitlement is to 5.6 weeks' holiday a year (capped at a maximum of 28 days), pro rata.

Many employers give more than the statutory minimum amount of holiday (for example, paid bank holidays). Under the regulations part-timers should be treated no less favourably; this normally means that a part time worker will get a pro rata proportion of what the full time workers get – including any extra days for bank holidays.

Your employer can't round down the number of days given, because this would be unfavourable treatment, but fractions of a day might be given as hours.

Your employer can control when you take your holiday so they can make you take bank holidays from this entitlement when they coincide with your working days. However, you can't take holiday on a day you aren't expected to work. For example, if you don't work Mondays (the day when most bank holidays fall) then you must be allowed to take the leave at another time.

Opportunities for career breaks

Some employers let employees take career breaks. If you're a part-time worker, you have the right to the same opportunities.

Sick pay, maternity, adoption and paternity leave and pay

Part-timers are entitled to the same rights to sick pay and maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay, and parental leave as full-time staff. If companies give more than the statutory entitlement, part-timers must also get these contractual benefits.

Selection for promotion and transfer, or for redundancy

Being part time can't be used as a reason for selection for transfer or redundancy, or refusing a promotion, unless it can be justified objectively.

What 'objectively justified' means

The rules set out above can be broken where there is objective justification for doing so. This means that the employer has to show that the reason is necessary, and the right way to meet a genuine aim of the business. Part-time workers can't be treated less favourably just because they are part time.

It may not be possible to pro-rate some benefits to part-timers (for example, complimentary health-club membership). In this situation your employer would have to decide either to give the benefit to both full and part time staff or (if there was objective justification – for example if the costs outweigh the benefit) not to give part-time workers the benefit.

What to do if your employer treats you unfavourably

If you're a part-timer and think you're being treated differently, you need to compare your situation with someone who:

  • Works for the same employer and is regarded as full-time
  • Does broadly the same work, with similar experience and skills
  • Is on the same type of contract

The person normally needs to work in the same location as you, but if nobody there meets the requirements set out you can compare yourself with someone at another location.

First, raise the matter with your employer. If you have an employee representative (for example, a trade union official), they may be able to help.

You have the right to a written statement explaining why you're being treated less favourably. If you write to your employer asking for this statement, they must respond within 28 days.

If an informal approach doesn't work, you may need to make a complaint using your employer's internal grievance procedure. In the end, you may have to go to an Employment Tribunal (Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland).

Before taking action you should be aware that the reason for any treatment might not be because of your part time status. For example, different hourly pay rates could be justified as part of a performance-related pay scheme – with your pay rate being related to your appraisal marking. Different rates of pay might also be justified because of extra payments associated with night shifts.

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