We can all agree that Covid was a truly difficult time for everyone. For many, it has led to a re-evaluation of work-life balance. How might this affect you as an employer?

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Recent research shows that flexible working arrangements are a high priority for employees. Many businesses have answered this need to adapt by changing working practices.

There are many benefits to working part-time or hybrid. But what is considered a benefit varies from person to person.

For some, they hold caring responsibilities for children or family members, whereas others are seeking a different work-life balance to suit their individual needs. It is important to remember that for some people part-time work is preferred, but for others, it is necessary to enable them to meet personal commitments. 

A recent survey found, that since the pandemic, over 50% of employers expect to receive more flexible working requests than they did pre-covid. 

Acas has launched new guidance on making hybrid working fair and transparent. The same study also showed that 50% of employees would leave for a new role if flexible working were not offered by their current employer. 

The Institute for Learning and Management found that 94% of employers now offer their workforce some form of flexible working.

To attract and retain the best talent, employers need to be aware of what changes they must make to working practices to reflect the wants and needs of their workforce, especially as the UK moves towards a ‘new normal’.

Do you have to allow part-time working?

It is important to assess your recruitment needs on a case-by-case basis. Does every position need to be full-time? If so, what’s the reason? There is often clear justification for the requirement for full-time workers, but in many cases, there are many benefits to offering part-time work: 

  • Many people looking for part-time work are often parents, or at a mid-stage of life whereby their commitments at home mean they can’t or don’t need to work full time. These people can offer valuable skills, expertise and experience to an organisation. Therefore, offering or considering part-time working hours can expand your recruitment pool of candidates.
  • Offering family-friendly working practices can increase recruitment, retention and morale and demonstrates that you value a diverse working environment.
  • Part-time roles enhance cost efficiencies when your budget does not allow for full-time hours 
  • Flexible hours allow agility in your organisation. You will be able to adjust and respond to peak periods. For example, you may need additional hours that full-time workers potentially could not cover, like weekends or evenings 
  • With a larger number of part-time employees, you can reduce the workloads of full-time workers who may be regularly working overtime to meet the demands of the business. In turn, this may help prevent stress or burnout of full-time workers.

What if a full-time employee requests part-time hours – do I have to agree to this? 

The easy answer is no – but it’s rarely so straightforward!

To avoid discrimination claims, it is important to apply a fair and consistent approach when dealing with requests to switch to part-time hours. An effective Flexible Working Policy will help ensure you do this.

Flexible working laws enable all eligible employees to request flexible working. The law places a duty on employers to consider such requests seriously and only to reject them for justifiable business reasons.

Each request for part-time working should ideally go via this policy with the standard procedure followed. To apply, the individual must be an employee, have been continuously employed by you for at least 26 weeks, and must not have made another application for flexible working within the last 12 months. 

Best practice would be to meet with the employee and explore their reasoning for the request. Establish whether there are any underlying issues which may need further exploration. Issues that need to be considered could include health or responsibility for dependents. Look at the options that may suit both parties and issue a fully considered outcome with the right to appeal. 

There is no automatic right to flexible working; however, a fair process should be conducted and only refused on specific grounds.

Whilst considering business reasons for any decision, it is beneficial to consider the advantages and disadvantages of flexible working for both you as the employer and the employee.

The advantages of part-time employment

Benefits for you as an employer may include increased retention rates and productivity, reduced absence levels, improved staff engagement and a happier, balanced employee.

The employee may benefit from less stress, lower costs for commuting or childcare, increased job satisfaction and a better work-life balance. An ONS survey found that 70% of the UK workforce had children and 1 in 7 had caring responsibilities. Part-time working allows those people to balance commitments for their personal and working lives.

The disadvantages of part-time employment

Disadvantages may include, where working from home is permitted, more supervision from you as an employer. Whereas for the employee, again, if working from home, they may find working and home life may become blurred and lack feeling part of the team.

The rights of part-time workers 

If an employee wants to make a claim for direct discrimination, they need to compare their treatment with the treatment of someone else. This person is called a comparator. By law, (The Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000) protects part-time workers and states they must not be treated less favourably than a full-time comparator simply because they work part-time. 

Part-time workers must be offered the same terms and conditions of employment as a full-time comparator on a pro-rata basis:

  • Pay – this includes sick pay and pay for family-friendly entitlements such as maternity, paternity and adoption leave 
  • Pensions and benefits*
  • Holiday entitlement 
  • Training and career development 
  • Selection for promotion, transfer and career breaks 
  • Redundancy selection 

Employers should consider each term, condition and benefit of a part-time contract individually rather than the contract as a whole. This can help avoid any differences that cannot be justified.

*In some cases, it can be justified not to offer the same level of benefit to a part-time worker if the benefit is disproportionate and the cost outweighs the benefit. This is known as ‘objective justification’. The benefit must be reviewed, and the reason for not offering the benefit must be evidenced and documented. 

Should a part-time worker feel they are being treated less favourably, they should raise this with you as a concern. As their employer, you are then required to provide a written statement of reasons for less favourable treatment within 21 days. Should you fail to produce the written statement and provide a valid reason for ‘objective justification’ for less favourable treatment, you may be subject to a tribunal claim against you for discrimination.

Victimisation and discrimination 

A part-time worker may claim victimisation should they feel they have been treated differently for raising concerns about less favourable treatment for themselves or others. Examples of victimisation may include being labelled as troublemakers, being left out of or being stopped from attending meetings, work or social events. 

Direct or Indirect discrimination claims may be brought against you if you treat part-timers differently from their full-time counterparts.

In summary 

It is best practice to consider and offer part-time work where you can, as well as give consideration to hybrid, flexitime, job-sharing and compressed hours. Where this cannot be offered, you must offer clear, justified reasoning based on specific grounds for the decision. Remember that such agreed arrangements become changes to terms and conditions; therefore, contracts of employment will need to be updated.

Working patterns must allow your business to continue operating efficiently, but a degree of reasonable give and take goes a long way to achieving a well-balanced and happy workforce. In order to manage the introduction of part-time contracts, or flexible working, it is important to have fair and consistent policies in place to avoid any claims against you for discrimination. 

At MAD-HR, the team has a wealth of experience in such areas and can ensure that we help you achieve a well-balanced workforce that not only benefits your business but also ensures you are compliant with the law. Contact our friendly team to find out more.