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Part-Time and Fixed-Term Employment

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 26 Feb 2014 | comments*Discuss
Workers Rights Organisation Employer

Regulations that protect workers do not apply across the board to all people who are in work. Apart from the special restrictions placed on some particular jobs, such as the armed forces, the regulations draw a distinction between employees, part-time employees, people on fixed-term contracts and agency workers.

Understanding the Definitions

Generally, an employee is someone who works full time, is on the payroll with an employer, and has no end date on their contract. An agency worker is someone who is hired through an agency and might be sent out to different companies every day, depending on where they are needed.

Part-time employees are those who work for one employer but for fewer hours than full-time employees at the same firm, and although there's no specific measure for the number of hours, it's usually less than 35 hours a week. Finally, someone who is on a fixed-term contract is an employee, but they have a contract that has an end-date written into it, either a specific date or to the end of a specified task or project.

Part-Time Workers

In recent years, part-time workers' rights have closed on those of full-time employees to the point that they now have the same statutory minimum rights. So part-time workers should, for example, accrue holiday at the same rate as full-time employees doing the same job. There isn't a minimum number of hours that part-time workers have to work in order to qualify for these rights.

Regulations have been passed to ensure that part-time workers are treated at least as well as full-time employees in the same job. As well as holiday entitlement this should cover:

  • Pay rates and bonuses
  • Breaks
  • Pensions
  • Benefits
  • Training and development
  • Opportunities for career breaks
  • Sick pay and family commitment leave
  • Opportunities for transfer
  • Redundancy or promotion.

Some of these benefits can be given pro rata, so that, for example, if a bonus of £600 is given to full-time workers and a part-time worker works 50% fewer hours than a full-time worker, then they should receive a £300 bonus.

Covering all the areas outlined above is a get-out clause, which states that a part-time worker can be treated differently if the reasons can be 'objectively justified'. This means that there needs to be a genuine reason why a benefit cannot be given to a part-time worker, not just because they are part-time.

If you believe that you have been treated unfairly and the reasons are unjustifiable then you should, after trying to resolve the issue informally, follow grievance procedures. See our article How Grievance And Disciplinary Procedures Work And Exerting Your Rights, for more details.

Fixed-Term Contracts

As with part-time workers, fixed-term workers should have the same statutory minimum rights as permanent workers, although there are special regulations to cover fixed-term employees. Note that these two types of worker are not mutually exclusive. It is possible, for instance, to be a part-time worker who is also on a fixed-term contract.

There is a distinction between 'temporary' workers, who don’t have a contract that ends on a particular date, and fixed-term contracted employees, and only the latter are covered by the special regulations. As with part-time workers, those on fixed-term contracts should not be treated any differently to employees and should have the same pay and conditions and benefits package.

Equal Benefits and Conditions

In fact, the list of benefits and opportunities is the same as that for the part-time workers above, with the exception that there is no need to offer pension facilities unless the fixed term is for over two years. There is also an extra stipulation, which is that an employer is obliged to inform any fixed-term employees of permanent opportunities that come up within the organisation.

When a fixed-term contract ends and is not renewed, the situation is treated as dismissal, so there will be full redundancy rights and, after one year of service, protection against unfair dismissal. As with part-time workers, the process if there is a perceived inequity would be to go through grievance producers, if it can't be settled informally at first.

Work-Life Balance

Although there are some pitfalls to part-time or fixed-term contract working, they can work very successfully from both points of view. For the employer, it means that they can get the skills that they need, but only for the time that they need them, so they are not over-stretched financially. For the employee, as long as it's their choice, they can gain greater benefits in terms of the healthier work-life balance offered by flexible working.

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Hi There I have been employed (no break in service at all) since June 2008.In March 2013 i transferred from my substantive permanent post to a fixed term contract and received a letter saying 'as we were unable to support a secondment you took the difficult decision to resign from your post'.The fixed term contract expires at end of may as we will have completed the work we were recruited to do.Is this redundancy - my employer is implying I will not be entitled to redundancy pay
Lels - 26-Feb-14 @ 1:38 PM
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