UK: Part-Time Working in the United Kingdom

Last Updated: 10 May 2002

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 by male than female employees, as female employees will be more likely to be in a position to claim sex discrimination.

A female employee whose request to work part-time is unreasonably refused will be able, therefore, to bring a claim not only for unfair dismissal (under the new Act) but, in certain circumstances, for sex discrimination as well. More specifically, her claim will be for indirect sex discrimination, ie, the employer has a "provision criterion or practice" to work full-time which applies equally to male and female employees but with which a considerably smaller proportion of one sex than the other can comply. Further, this requirement is not "appropriate, necessary and objectively justified" and is one which is to the employee's detriment. Since a larger proportion of employed women than employed men work part-time, an employer's requirement for full-time work may constitute indirect sex discrimination unless such a requirement can be justified. This type of claim is therefore used by female employees, frequently on return from maternity leave.

Each case, as the old saying goes, turns on its own facts. In one case (Abbey Textiles Limited -v- Burgess, EAT 1265/97), a female machinist asked to go part-time following her return to work from maternity leave. Her employer took the view that if she was a member of a team, part-time work would not be possible. The Tribunal which heard the case in the first instance decided that the employer's defence of justification was not well founded. Ms Burgess could operate all the machines used by the team, no regular team meetings were held and, in the event that she did miss a meeting, she could easily have been briefed by a colleague. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) upheld the Tribunal's decision.

By contrast, in Ely -v- Huntleigh Diagnostics Limited (EAT 1441/96), the Applicant's job as a Receptionist was held by the Tribunal (and later the EAT) to be one which could not be properly performed on a part-time basis as it was inextricably tied in with the hours worked by the sales team which she supported. As the sales team worked full-time, her job could not be done on a part-time basis.

More recently, in an unreported case, a male car mechanic won his Tribunal claim for sex discrimination. His request to work part-time in order to care for his children was refused by the employer, although the company regularly allowed women to work part-time for that same reason. The Tribunal did not accept the argument that his job could not be performed on a part-time basis. In fact, his claim was for direct sex discrimination as "but for" the fact that he was a man, his request to work part-time would have been granted.

In these cases, where sex discrimination is found, the legal remedy is almost always by way of a monetary award consisting of a basic award, a compensatory award and a possible award for injury to feelings. Reinstatement or re-engagement are possible remedies, but they are almost never ordered. Indeed, in these cases, reinstatement would not be appropriate as it would effectively put the employee back in his/her previous full-time job. In any event, an employer can refuse to obey an order for reinstatement or re-engagement, the penalty being that the employee receives an additional award of between 26 and 52 weeks' pay.

The Tribunal does not have the power to force an employer to take back an employee as contracts of employment are not subject to the rule of specific performance. It is for that reason that an injunction would not be an available remedy in a UK Court in these circumstances. An employer cannot be ordered to employ an individual and nor can an employee be forced to work for an employer. Monetary damages are the legal remedy in cases of sex discrimination and such damages are not limited to the current unfair dismissal compensatory award of Ł52,600, but are uncapped.

If the present Government continues to extend employment protection in this area, it is possible that the right to work part-time could be introduced. However, such a proposal would meet considerable resistance from employers throughout the country who feel that the damage to business would far outweigh any benefit to families.

This is a commentary to update those involved in regulated banking, investment, or corporate activities, on important developments affecting them. Since this is a quick reference facility, it is not a substitute for obtaining specific professional advice.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.