Employment rights of part-time workers
The legislation that sets out the rules for part-time workers is the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001.
The 2001 Act applies to all part-time workers, including casual workers. The entitlement of the part-time employee is generally in proportion (pro-rata basis) to the entitlement of the full-time employee. However, minimum periods of continuous service are required for the purpose of unfair dismissal and redundancy entitlements under separate legislation.
When can a part-time worker be compared to a full-time worker?
A part-time worker can be compared to a full-time worker when:
- Both the part-time and full-time worker are employed by the same general employer
- Both the part-time and full-time workers perform the same work (or work of a similar nature) under the same or similar conditions OR
- The workers are interchangeable in relation to the work done OR
- Any differences between the work performed (or the conditions under which it is performed) by each worker are either (a) of little importance in relation to the work as a whole, or (b) occur so irregularly as to be insignificant OR
- The work they perform is of equal value, or of greater value, to the work performed by the comparable full-time worker
Part-time agency workers can compare themselves only to comparable full-time workers who are also agency workers. Likewise, part-time workers who are not agency workers cannot compare themselves to full-time agency workers.
When can a part-time worker be treated less favourably than a full-time worker?
Employers can treat part-time workers less favourably than full-time workers in two circumstances:
- Where it can be justified on objective grounds
- On pensions in limited circumstances
Objective grounds for less favourable treatment of part-time workers
Employers cannot treat a part-time employee less favourably than a comparable full-time employee simply because of the fact that they work part-time.
Employers can treat a part-time worker less favourably if they have objective grounds and the difference in treatment is appropriate and necessary for achieving a legitimate business objective. An example of objective grounds may include a part-time worker who is denied health insurance, even though a comparable full-time worker is granted health insurance, because of the disproportionate cost to the employer of providing the insurance to a part-time worker.
However, objective grounds for treating part-time workers less favourably than full-time workers may be different for casual part-time employees. Casual employees are people with fewer than 13 weeks’ service who are not in regular or seasonal employment (or who are casual, based on a collective agreement).
Pensions and part-time workers
With regard to a pension scheme, a part-time employee who normally works less than 20% of the normal hours of the comparable full-time employee can be treated in a less favourable manner.
However, this does not prevent an employer and a part-time employee from agreeing that the part-time worker will receive the same pension benefits as a comparable full-time worker.
Must employers pay overtime to part-time workers?
Part-time workers are entitled to overtime pay if the full-time employee who they compare themselves to is paid overtime, after working their maximum hours per week.
However, an employer can decide that part-time employees must work the same number of hours as a full-time employee before they become entitled to overtime pay.
For example, if full-time employees have to work a 39-hour week before the overtime rate is paid, then an employer can state that part-time employees must also work 39 hours before the overtime rate is paid. In this example, part-time workers who usually work 20 hours a week would be paid at their normal rate for any hours worked between 20 and 39 hours.
Employers are not required by law to pay higher rates (such as ‘double time’) for work completed in overtime. However, they must pay at least the normal hourly rate of pay for overtime.
Do employees have a right to change from full-time to part-time work?
An employer is not obliged to allow full-time workers to change to part-time working.
The Code of Practice on Access to Part-Time Work aims to encourage employers and employees to consider part-time work. It sets out ways that employers can improve access to part-time work.
An employer should have a procedure for dealing with part-time working requests. This should include consultation and discussion with the employee before making a decision.
An employer should take certain factors into account such as an employee’s personal family needs, the implications for the organisation, the number of part-time employees, the equal opportunities policy and the staffing needs.
If an employer refuses a part-time working request, they need to provide good reasons. For example, that the change would lead to staffing difficulties. They should give an employee their reasons for the refusal.
An employee’s request should be considered on non-discriminatory grounds, in accordance with employment equality legislation.
An employee can bring a complaint or a dispute about breaches of their employment rights to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).
Penalising part-time employees
Part-time workers are entitled to exercise their rights under the legislation. This means that an employer is prohibited from penalising (or punishing) a part-time employee where:
- The employee exercised their right not to be treated in a less favourable manner than a comparable full-time employee, in relation to conditions of employment
- The employee refused to agree to the employer’s request to change from full-time work to part-time work (or the opposite)
- The employee, in good faith, opposed (by lawful means) an act that is unlawful under the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act
- The employee gave evidence in any proceedings under the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act or gave notice of his or her intention to do so or to do any other thing referred to in the bulleted points mentioned above.
What is penalisation of part-time workers?
- The following actions are considered to be penalisation of the employee:
- The dismissal of the employee
- An unfavourable change in the conditions of employment of the employee
- Unfair treatment of the employee, including selection for redundancy
- Any other action that is prejudicial to the part-time worker’s employment
What is not considered penalisation?
Employers are not considered to have penalised a part-time employee in certain circumstances.
For example, in the case where an employer requests an employee to transfer from full-time work to part-time work (or the opposite) when the following conditions are met:
- The employer has substantial grounds both to justify the request and to take any action after the employee’s refusal
- Taking the action is in accordance with the employee’s contract of employment and the provisions of employment rights legislation
What can part-time workers do if they are penalised?
An employee can make a complaint or bring a dispute about breaches of employment rights to the WRC.
Employees must notify their employer of their intention to contact the WRC. Where legal entitlements are involved, they are expected to try to resolve the matter locally before going to the WRC.
Employees must make the complaint within 6 months of the breach of the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001. The time limit may be extended for up to an additional 6 months, if there is a reasonable cause which prevented the complaint from being brought within the normal time limit.
If an employee with over one year’s service is penalised by being dismissed (within the meaning of the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1973-2015), they can alternatively refer their case to the WRC under that Act. For more information, see our document on unfair dismissal.
Further information on the 2001 Act is available in this explanatory booklet for employers and employees (pdf), in our document on working part-time and from the WRC Information and Customer Service.