Your rights explained: what am I entitled to as a part-time worker?

Lawyer Aleksandra Flack has some advice on your employment rights if you reduce your hours, are self employed or need to take time off sick.

Part Time or Full Time writing on block with clock on top


Whether you’re reducing your hours in your current role, starting a job with a new employer or are self-employed, returning to work after parental leave is one of the biggest challenges facing new parents. As well as leaving your baby with someone else, perhaps for the first time, you’ll be weighing up whether the job provides the take-home income, time and flexibility needed for a happy and comfortable family life. Working out pro rata holiday allowance and pay can be tricky, even without factoring in any time taken off when you or your child is unwell. Employment law solicitor Aleksandra Flack from Langleys Solicitors answers some of the main questions around part-time working rights, sick pay and self employment.

How are holidays for part-time workers calculated?

You probably already know that full-time employees must receive a minimum of 28 days’ leave per year, including bank holidays, although firms can, of course, offer more at their discretion.

As a part-time employee, your holiday is calculated on a pro rata basis, so if you work three out of five days, you’ll receive three-fifths of the company’s holiday allowance.

For those on hourly contracts, holiday allowance is based on the average number of hours a full-time employee at that business would work.

There is no ‘average’ week in the eyes of the law, although nobody should work more than 48 hours per week, based on a 17-week period, without opting out first.

Unsurprisingly, the situation is more complex when it comes to zero-hour or casual contracts. While a job with the flexibility to pick and choose your hours might sound appealing, remember you have to ‘earn’ your holiday pay. Based on the minimum 28-day allowance, your employer should multiply the number of hours worked by 12.07%, but it is also worth calculating it yourself to double check.

What happens if I fall ill?

With a new dependant to think about, it’s natural to be anxious about what happens when you fall ill. While companies may offer sick pay on a discretionary basis, all workers are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) as long as they meet the eligibility requirements. This applies when you have been ill for four consecutive days and, importantly for part-time workers, this includes both working and non-working days. SSP comes into force on the fourth day someone is off.

If you are ill for seven days in a row, including weekends and bank holidays, you can self-certify without seeing a medical professional. For anything longer, a sicknote (or fit note) from a doctor is required.

Can I take time off if my child is sick?

It is something all parents experience at some point – your child is unwell in the morning and cannot go to nursery or has to be picked up during the day. Nothing is more important than being at home with them, but first you’ll need to ask for time away from work at a moment’s notice.

Parents are legally entitled to time off for dependants and even though it is technically unpaid, an employer could still choose to pay your wages as normal.

There is technically no limit on how much time you are allowed; instead it is based on what the company believes is reasonable. One or two days is normally considered enough to work out alternative arrangements, such as sharing childcare with a partner or family member, and in many cases, the same rules apply to full and part-time employees.

You can also take dependency leave if the nursery or school is closed unexpectedly, for example, because of flooding or heavy snow.

A word of warning, never pretend you are unwell, not your child, to take advantage of your company’s sick pay policy. It is a breach of your employment contract and could result in disciplinary action.

What if my child is ill for longer?

Unfortunately, there may be times when you need more than a couple of days to care for a sick child. In such cases, you’re entitled to parental leave of up to four weeks – unpaid – and in blocks of at least a week. Another option is to take it as annual leave and still receive your usual wages.

Any parental leave has to be agreed with your employer, and you will normally find details of the company policy on the intranet and/or staff handbook. An employer can delay parental leave if it does not fit in with the business’ needs, although you may be able to take compassionate leave in serious or urgent cases.

Do I have any rights if I am self-employed?

Working for yourself means you are not legally entitled to holiday or sick pay, so while you can take time off whenever you need to, you won’t be earning. Those who are too ill to work, however, could be eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Complications can arise if the majority of your work comes from one client, so always check your genuine employment status as you could be missing out on holiday and sick pay. If your working relationship has evolved, to the extent that you are effectively working full time for the company, it might be worth asking about a permanent position that offers the same rights as your colleagues.

Final thoughts

Employers not only have a legal obligation to accommodate the needs of mums and dads, it is also in their commercial interest to do so. When businesses are committed to parental rights, and take a flexible approach, they may be rewarded with better staff engagement and retention rates. Wherever possible, I would urge managers to be pragmatic and give people the option to work from home if they or their children are ill.

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