A to Z of employment law
Maz Dannourah

P-T

P is for Part-time working

Q is for Qualifying periods

R is for Redundancies

S is for Sickness

T is for Tribunals

Part-time working

A part-time worker is someone who works less than full-time hours (typically five days/37 hours).  There is no specific number of hours that makes a worker part-time.

Part-time workers are protected from being treated less favourably than their full-time equivalent colleagues and they should receive the same treatment in relation to pay rates, holidays, training and development, selection for promotion (or transfer or redundancy), opportunities for career breaks and other benefits.

Some benefits (eg, bonuses) can be paid pro-rata in relation to the proportion of hours a part-time employee works compared with a full-time worker.  In other cases, different treatment can be objectively justified.

If a part-time worker feels they have been unfairly treated, they have the right to request a written statement from their employer giving the reasons for the different treatment.  The response from the employer must be made within 21 days.  If the worker feels that any reason given is not objectively justified, they may be able to bring a claim at an Employment Tribunal.

Qualifying periods

A qualifying period is usually the length of time an employee has to have worked for an employer before they can bring a claim against that employer.  The qualifying period starts from (and includes) the first day of employment.

To make a claim for unfair dismissal, an employee must have been working for a minimum qualifying period of two years at the date of dismissal.

For claims relating to any form of discrimination, “whistleblowing”, trade union activities, working-time regulations and in some other, more unusual circumstances, no qualifying periods apply.

Qualifying periods also apply to certain entitlements, such as statutory maternity pay where the length of service required is 26 weeks at the 15th week before the expected date of childbirth.  Other qualifying periods also apply to entitlements such as a redundancy payment and the right to notice of termination of employment.

Redundancies

A redundancy may occur where an employer no longer has a need, or it has a reduced need, for employees carrying out particular functions or work.  The term “redundancy” is clearly defined in section 139 of the Employment Rights Act and any redundancy must fit into that definition.

The regulations set out clear guidelines on the redundancy process, including details of how employees must be consulted and how they are selected.  One of the most important aspects of a redundancy situation from an employer’s point of view is making the selection process fair when reducing numbers of employees.

Employers need to be clear about the basis on which they are making their selections.  Selection criteria could include:

  • skills, qualifications and aptitude;
  • standard of work and/or performance;
  • attendance and disciplinary record.

Any selection criteria used must be objectively justified and objectively applied.

Employers must give notice to those employees who will be made redundant.  The length of this notice depends on how long each employee has been working for the business and ranges from one week to 12 weeks or other such period as set out in the contract of employment.

If an employee is made redundant, they are entitled to a redundancy payment (providing they have at least two years’ service).  The amount of the payment will be calculated based upon the salary of the employee, their length of service and their age.  It is calculated according to a set formula.

Redundancy dismissals, if not carried out properly, have the potential to lead to claims for unfair dismissal.  It is therefore essential for employers considering redundancy dismissals to take advice from an early stage to ensure that errors do not occur and are not compounded by the time notice of termination is given.

Sickness

Sickness in the workplace can cause difficulties for employers, but it needs to be handled correctly if its impact is to be minimised.  Employers need to treat sick employees sensitively whilst being alert to the fact that some employees may be using sickness as an excuse to not come in to work.

Additional complications arise in the case of long-term (over four weeks) sickness, when employers may need to consider alternatives to maintain production and keep their business running.

The best advice is to have a thorough and clear sickness policy which is communicated to all staff.  A good policy will let employees know exactly how they should report sickness and what they should do when they return to work.

If an employer has a good sickness policy, it will enable them to monitor sickness among their workforce and identify trends amongst individuals and departments.  This may give rise to further investigations and actions, but this can only be done if good records are being kept.

Almost all employees are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they are unable to work for more than a few days in a row. SSP is payable at a flat rate for up to 28 weeks in any period of sickness, and whilst some employers have schemes that offer more than SSP, it is there as a ‘safety net’.

Tribunals

An Employment Tribunal is for many the last resort in employment disputes.  If informal attempts at settling disputes fail, the Tribunal will be called upon to decide on a claim.

Since 6 May 2014, all disputes must go through Early Conciliation via ACAS before they can be taken to a Tribunal.

The Tribunal process usually starts with the employer receiving a form known as an ET1 from their ex-employee stating their case.  The employer must respond to this within 28 days using a form ET3, where they set out their response to the claim, including the basis upon which the claim is resisted.

Employment Tribunals are generally less formal than civil courts, with employees often representing themselves.  Once a claim reaches an Employment Tribunal, many employers will seek advice from a employment solicitor or other representative if advice has not already been taken.

Most employment-related claims have relatively short time limits by which the employee must have filed a claim.  For unfair dismissal and unlawful deductions from wages claims, the time limit is three months from the dismissal or the deduction from wages.  The time limits are generally strictly enforced unless there is a particularly good reason why the claim should be allowed “out of time”.  The time limit on most employment-related claims is three months from the date of the issue arising/act complained of occurring.

Whilst Employment Tribunals are a “last resort” for employees, employers should generally seek to avoid claims being presented if at all possible.  Dealing with Tribunal claims is usually expensive in terms of legal costs, but also in relation to management time being taken up dealing with the proceedings.  Whilst it may be impossible to ensure that no claim is ever presented, steps can be taken to minimise this risk, usually by following proper procedures and taking advice early.

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