Earlier in the year I wrote about the new Part-Time regulations and how to plan for them (Personnel Today, 15 February). The final version of the regulations has now been published and will come into force on 1 July. The reason for writing a further piece on this subject is that the rules have changed substantially from those previously issued for consultation in January, and there is a considerable amount of planning which employers should now start in order to be prepared for the new law.
While the basic principles remain the same (the prohibition of less than pro rata treatment for part-timers) various key issues have changed. This is due to heavy political lobbying by the TUC and other employee organisations on the grounds that, under the initial draft, it was estimated that only 45,000 of the 6.8 million part time employees in the UK would actually benefit from the law changes.
First, the regulations now apply to “workers” and not just employees, thereby ensuring that individuals who work casually, who are home workers and who are seen as agency or consultant workers are protected by the law. This means that around a further 400,000 individuals working less than full-time hours are covered.
Second, the procedure for obtaining written reasons for the difference in treatment has been changed so that a worker must apply in writing for a statement from the employer explaining why differences exist – rather than simply making an oral request. The employer has 21 days in which to respond. The idea behind this process is to allow informal resolution of matters which would otherwise need to be dealt with by tribunals. This procedure, however, has been heavily criticised by the British Chamber of Commerce which believes it will increase substantially administration costs for employers.
Third, the regulations have been amended to make it clear they will apply to two specific situations. Where an individual agrees to work shorter hours, he or she may compare the new package with their old package, without having to find a different person to act as a necessary comparator. Similarly, where an individual ceases to work for an employer but returns within a period of 12 months, a comparison can be made between the previous package and the new package. This is aimed at individuals who have been on maternity leave.
Interestingly, the DTI has also issued a document outlining compliance guidance and best practice, setting out areas at which employers should look closely to ensure that the pro rata principle is upheld. Apart from the obvious issues of pay, overtime and training, employers are warned to examine details of pensions, leave arrangements, redundancy selection, profit sharing, share schemes, promotion issues and benefits, to ensure there is pro rata treatment or objective grounds for any difference. It might concern employers to know that under the best practice guidance, they are asked to be pro-active in promoting part time work and in involving any staff body or works council in this issue. Larger organisations are also asked to consider whether there should be child care on site, whether they should be contributing to staff child care costs and whether they should actively promote flexible working. While not legally binding, this will present a challenge to many of the UK’s larger employers.