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8 October 2021

The onset of the Covid pandemic saw a shift in employees’ priorities, with many more wanting to submit flexible working requests to improve their work-life balance; including requests to reduce working days and hours or adopt part-time shift patterns. Others may have been forced to decide between reducing their working hours or face redundancy action due to the decrease in demand for certain roles and the widespread closure of businesses as a result of the different lockdown restrictions. Either way, alleged unfair treatment of part-time staff has led to an increase in claims relating to part-time working regulations of over 767%. This is the sharpest rise in tribunal case topics over the past 18 months.

This rise may be attributed to the increase in the number of part-time workers because of Covid-induced reduced working hours. Or, it may be that part-time workers are generally raising more complaints that they are being treated unfavourably during redundancy selection, enforcing changes to terms and conditions or TUPE processes. Whatever the cause, the tribunal statistics act as a warning to employers that part-time workers are protected by law under the Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000. Workers can claim compensation through the Employment Tribunal if they are dismissed or subject to less favourable treatment or detriment because of their part-time working hours. Where relevant, these claims can be made in addition to other unfair dismissal, constructive dismissal and/or discrimination claims.

To avoid the risk of claims, organisations should pro-actively take steps to support their part-time workers and ensure they receive the same basic entitlements as comparable full-time colleagues. They should not select employees for contractual changes or make them redundant solely based on their working hours. Where redundancies are needed, organisations should apply a fair selection criteria across all its affected employees, to objectively decide who should stay on and who should be made redundant. Key elements to include in the criteria include: skills, qualifications and aptitude; standard of work and performance; attendance records; disciplinary records; and length of service.  An in-depth consultation process further ensures employees are treated fairly and consistently. In situations where TUPE rules apply to a change in employer, part-time staff should be afforded the same opportunities and protection. Organisations cannot refuse to transfer part-time workers if the work they do will remain available. Doing so will breach TUPE Regulations and risk claims of automatically unfair dismissal.

Ultimately, it’s vital for organisations to remember that workers can’t be placed at a detriment due to their part-time status.