The rights of part-time workers

If you employ part-time workers you need to know their rights.

Employers need to realise that the legal obligations towards part-time workers, job-sharing situations or other flexible arrangements are quite similar. Workers have rights to which you, as an employer, need to adhere.

What is part-time work?

A part-time worker is defined as an employee whose normal hours of work are less than the normal hours of work of a comparable employee. Normal hours of work are the average number of hours worked by somone every day during a ‘reference period’. This reference period must not be less than a week or more than a year.

The Protection of Employees (Part Time Work) Act 2001 applies to any part-time worker and generally includes those who:

  • Work under a contract of employment or apprenticeship
  • Are employed through an employment agency
  • Work for the State
  • Share a job with another person

The law

Part-time workers cannot be treated less favourably than comparable full-time workers in terms of pay or working conditions.

Conditions of employment include pay, and statutory and contractual company benefits, such as sick pay and health insurance, for example.

However, a part-time employee who works less than 20% of the normal hours of a comparable employee can be treated less favourably with regard to a company pension scheme.

You are not obliged under law to provide access to part-time work.

Casual workers

Casual workers are clearly defined in employment law. They are part-time workers who work on a casual basis. They have fewer than 13 weeks’ continuous service and are not in regular or seasonal employment.

An employee’s service in employment is deemed continuous unless that service is terminated by the employee’s dismissal or their voluntary departure from employment.

Potential pitfalls

Know the difference between self-employed workers and your employees. Remember, you are obliged to factor in PRSI and PAYE for employees. According to the Revenue Commissioners, an employee is defined as a worker who:

  • Is under the control of another person who directs as to how, when and where the work is to be carried out
  • Supplies labour only
  • Receives a fixed hourly/weekly/monthly wage
  • Cannot sub-contract their work
  • Does not supply materials for the job
  • Does not provide equipment other than small tools of the trade
  • Is not exposed to personal financial risk in carrying out the work
  • Works set hours or a given number of hours per week or month
  • Works for one person or for one business
  • Is entitled to sick pay/holiday pay/pension etc
  • Receives expense payments to cover subsistence and/or travel expenses

On the other hand, the Revenue says a self-employed person is someone who:

  • Owns their own business
  • Is exposed to financial risk, by having to bear the cost of repairing faulty or substandard work
  • Assumes responsibility for investment and management in the business
  • Has the opportunity to profit from sound management in the scheduling and performance of tasks
  • Has control over what is done, how it is done, when and where it is done and whether he or she does it personally
  • Is free to hire other people to do the work
  • Can provide the same services to more than one person or business at the same time
  • Provides equipment/materials for the job
  • Has their own fixed place of business
  • Provides their own insurance
  • Controls their own hours of work

Don’t assume you can offer a worker a ‘quick-fix’ of cash for services, as the Revenue will penalise you if you don’t meet your obligations.

Flexible workers

Flexible workers and flexible working arrangements are not covered by specific legislation, and work at your discretion. People who share a job are viewed as part-time workers, with all the statutory entitlements that brings.

Advances in technology have led to increased calls for remote working among employees. Again, this is at your discretion as an employer. But just because someone works for your business from home doesn’t mean that they are not an employee, with all the rights that others enjoy.

3 Action Points

  • Examine your business’s capacity before agreeing to part-time work requests. Ensure you can meet demand before offering part-time contracts.
  • Know your tax obligations. Don’t assume casual workers are self-employed. Check the guidelines to be safe.
  • Research the effectiveness of remote working. Flexible working arrangements can be beneficial for both you and your employees. Consider the advantages it could bring to your business.