Employment rights of part-time workers
The Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001 aims to:
- Ensure that a part-time employee cannot be treated less favourably than a comparable full-time employee regarding conditions of employment
- Ensure that all employee protection legislation applies to a part-time employee in the same manner as it already applies to a full-time employee. Any qualifying conditions (with the exception of any hours thresholds) that apply to a full-time employee in any of that legislation also apply to a part-time employee
- Enhance the quality of part-time work
- Facilitate the development of part-time work on a voluntary basis and to contribute to the flexible organisation of working time in a way that takes account of the needs of employers and workers.
The Act abolishes the requirement that a part-time worker should be in the continuous hourly employment of the employer for not less than 13 weeks and should normally be expected to work not less than 8 hours per week. However, the calculation of continuous service for the purposes of entitlement under, for example, the unfair dismissals and redundancy legislation still applies. In effect, a part-time employee will still be required to have 12 months continuous service with his/her employer from the start of the employee's employment.
The entitlement of the part-time employee is in proportion to the entitlement of the full-time employee.
When can a part-time worker can be compared to a full-time worker?
A part-time worker can be compared to a full-time worker when:
- The part-time worker performs the same work as the full-time worker under the same or similar conditions (or both workers are interchangeable with the other in relation to the work).
- The work performed by one of the employees is of the same or a similar nature to that performed by the other worker. In addition, any differences between the work performed or the conditions under which it is performed by each worker are either of little importance in relation to the work as a whole, or occur so irregularly as not to be insignificant
- The work performed by the part-time employee is equal or greater in value to the work performed by the other employee concerned.
A part-time agency worker can only compare himself or herself to a comparable full-time employee who is also an agency worker. Likewise, a part-time employee, who is not an agency worker, cannot compare themselves to a full-time agency worker.
When can a part-time worker can be treated less favourably than a full-time worker?
A part-time employee can be treated less favourably than a comparable full-time employee where such treatment can be justified in two circumstances:
- Where the part-time worker's less favourable treatment can be justified on "objective grounds"
"Objective grounds" for less favourable treatment
"Objective grounds" for treating a part-time worker less favourably than a comparable full-time employee are based on considerations other than the status of the employee as a part-time worker. These grounds occur where the less favourable treatment is necessary for the purpose of achieving a legitimate objective of the employer.
However, what may be not considered as objective grounds in relation to less favourable treatment of a part-time employee may be considered objective grounds in relation to a casual part-time employee. (Casual employees are those with fewer than 13 weeks' service who are not in regular or seasonal employment or are casual based on a collective agreement to that effect.)
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 with regard to a pension scheme or arrangement. However, this provision does not prevent an employer and a part-time employee from entering into an agreement whereby the part-time employee receives the same pension benefits as a comparable full-time employee.
Part-time workers and overtime
Part-time workers are entitled to overtime if the full-time employee to which they compare themselves is paid overtime after working his/her maximum hours per week.
In order to claim overtime however, your employer can determine that part-time employees must work the same number of hours as a full-time employee before you can claim overtime. (In other words, if full time employees must work a 39 hour week before overtime rate of pay is paid, then your employer can state that part-time employees must work the same number of hours). In this case, if you work 20 hours per week, any hours worked between 20 and 39 hours must be paid at the normal rate.
Note that employers are not required by law to pay employees higher rates (that is, "double time") for work completed in overtime. You must however, receive at the very least, your normal hourly rate of pay for overtime.
Access to part-time work
An employer is not obliged to provide access to part-time work to his or her employees. The Code of Practice on Access to Part-Time Work aims to encourage employers and employees to consider part-time work and to provide guidance on procedures to improve access to part-time work for those employees who wish to work on a part-time basis.
Penalisation of part-time employees
An employer is prohibited from penalising a part-time employee on the grounds that:
- The employee exercised or proposes to exercise his/her right not to be treated in a less favourable manner than a comparable full-time employee in relation to conditions of employment
- 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 refused to accede to a request by the employer to transfer from performing full-time work to performing part-time work or vice versa
- 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.
Penalisation: The following actions are considered to be penalisations 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.
Employers will not be considered to have penalised a part-time employee in certain circumstances. For example, in relation to a request by the employer that the employee transfers from full-time work to part-time work (or vice versa) when the following conditions are met:
- The employer must have substantial grounds both to justify the making of the request and for taking any action after the employee's refusal to transfer from full-time work to part-time work or the other way round
- The taking of the action is in accordance with the employee's contract of employment and the provisions of employment rights legislation
Protection against penalisation: if an employee has less than one year's service and is dismissed within the meaning of the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1973 to 2007, they may refer a case to the Workplace Relations Commission under this Act.
How to apply
Complaints, disputes or grievances regarding breaches of employment rights under certain legislation can be referred to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). You must notify your employer of your intention to contact the Workplace Relations Commission. Where legal entitlements are involved, you should try and resolve the matter locally before referring to the Workplace Relations Commission.
You apply regarding breaches of the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001 within 6 months of the breach occurring. You must use the online complaint form available on workplacerelations.ie. The time limit may be extended for up to a further 6 months, but only where there is a reasonable cause which prevented the complaint being brought within the normal time limit.
Further information may be obtained from this explanatory booklet on the employment protection of part-time workers (pdf) and from WRC Information and Customer Service - see 'Where to apply' below.
Where to apply