Can my boss force me to go part time? Ask the expert

I started a full time job last April, but this was reduced to 15.5 hours in May. I have no contract, but my employer is pressing me to accept a part-time one. Do I have to? Also how do I work out how much holiday I am owed pro-rata? I took unpaid holiday last July.

A contract of employment exists as soon as an employee starts work and by doing so, proves that the employee accepts that he/she accepts the terms and conditions offered by the employer. Both employer and employee are bound by the terms offered and accepted. Often, the contract is verbally agreed and not written down.
However, as a legal minimum, employees are entitled to be given a Written Statement setting out the main particulars of their employment as long as their employment lasts more than one month.
Most employers will provide a Contract of Employment which covers greater depth around the employment relationship than the written statement. In this situation, it is not clear whether you got an employment contract when you first started working full time, but you state that you got no employment contract when your hours were reduced down in May 2007 but now your employer is trying to make you sign a contract to work reduced hours from what you originally verbally agreed to.
Assuming that you never received a Written Statement of details of your employment within your first 2 months of working, you would have a claim in law and potential compensation under the Employment Rights Act 1996. Some employers make new employees work a probationary period, often up to 3 months, after which if they are performing adequately their employment becomes permanent. Often holidays taken during this period are not allowed and would be unpaid.
However, as it sounds like you have had minimal paperwork from your employer outlining holidays etc I am assuming that you have not been under a probationary period. Therefore, to not pay you for the holiday that you took in July last year seems unreasonable. As a legal minimum, holiday entitlement in the UK for full time employees is currently 24 days per annum which includes 8 public holidays.
Part time workers are entitled to have their holidays calculated on a pro rata basis depending on the number of days or hours that they work so that they are not treated less favourably than their full time colleagues. There is no one formula used by all employers to calculate this as it will depend on the particular working pattern (ie Monday to Friday but only 3 hours per day?  or Monday to Wednesday at 5 hours per day?) so I can not give you a specific number.
However, as you are working 15.5 hours per week compared to 35 (which I assume is the full-time amount) then you would be entitled to 44% of the number of hours worth of holiday that a full-time time person would get.  If the company offers statutory holiday terms, then 7 hours x 24 days = 168 hours per annum and so you would be eligible for 44% of this amount ie about 74 hours per year.
Once an employee has more than 12 months service, as you do now, certain employment rights are gained including the right to be consulted by the employer before changes are made to an employment contract. It sounds like your employer has been forcing you to work reduced hours but has not formally consulted with you to change your contractual terms and so this could mean that you have a claim against your employer for breach of contract.
I would suggest therefore that you may need to seek further advice from either ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service – 08457 474747) or the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) or possibly even a solicitor who can advice you around whether you can claim breach of contract. Good luck!

While every care has been taken in compiling this answer, WorkingMums cannot be held responsible for any errors or ommissions. This infomration is not intended to be a substitue for specific legal advice.  



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