Part-Time Working in the United Kingdom

Recent legislation in the UK has seen the introduction and development of the so-called "family-friendly policies", designed to enable workers to balance the demands of family life and work. The Employment Rights Act 1996 introduced the right to take time off in an emergency to care for a dependent, the right of parental leave and extended maternity rights.

The Employment Bill 2002 which is currently wending its way through Parliament will introduce the right to paid paternity leave and will extend many new rights to adoptive parents.

It is interesting to note, however, that the right to work part-time, surely one of the most family-friendly policies of all, has yet to be enshrined in law. The Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2001 (SI 2000/1551) enables part-time workers to claim equal treatment with their full-time colleagues. As a result, a part-timer is entitled to receive on a pro-rata basis the same pay and benefits as a full-timer doing the same or essentially the same job.

Crucially, however, the Regulations do not confer on a worker a positive legal right to work part-time. The Department for Trade & Industry ("DTI") has published guidelines for employers, "The Law and Best Practice - a detailed Guide for Employers and Part-Timers", which recommends that an employer, when faced with a request by a worker to reduce his/her hours, should give genuine consideration to the request and should only refuse it for sound business reasons. Employers should also establish procedures for handling a request to work part-time. These guidelines, however, have no legal force.

The current Employment Bill will give a legal basis to this "request/consider" procedure. From April 2003 (when it is anticipated that the Bill will become law) an employer will have to give "serious" consideration to a request from any parent of a child under the age of six to work part-time and give "clear business reasons" for refusal. This does not by any means establish a legal right to work part-time although an unreasonable refusal could result in a Tribunal claim. The Tribunal will look at the procedure adopted by the company, consider whether the employee has been given an adequate explanation of the reason(s) for refusal and whether or not those reasons do justify refusal. The Tribunal can send the claim back to the employer to reconsider its refusal and will be able to award compensation. This route will doubtless be used more...

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