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The claim of Roddis v Sheffield Hallam University has helped clarify the risks of engaging employees on zero-hours contracts, particularly as it refers to less favourable treatment as a part-time worker.

The relevant case law on part-time workers and zero-hours employees

The Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 prevent employers from subjecting part-time workers to less-favourable treatment on the basis that they are part-time employees. The regulations state that a part-time worker has a right not to be treated less favourably than a comparable full-time worker. The benefits of the regulations extend to workers as well as employees. When pointing to a comparator under the regulations, part-time employees cannot rely on a hypothetical comparative full-time worker but must rely upon a real one and the comparator must be engaged under the same type of contract as the part-time worker.

The case of Roddis dealt squarely with the question of whether, when someone is engaged under a zero-hours contract, that contract can be considered to be of the same ‘type’ as a full-time, permanent contract. This matter is crucial to zero-hours contracts and their treatment under the regulations.

 Less-favourable treatment of part-time workers

Mr Roddis was engaged as an Associate Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University under a zero-hours contract. He issued a claim for less-favourable treatment as a part-time worker. His claim progressed to a preliminary hearing to consider whether or not the full-time comparator identified by Mr Roddis could be used. The university argued that the comparator was a lecturer who held full-time, permanent employment and sought to argue that the full time, permanent nature of the comparator meant the contract between the university and Mr Roddis was not of the same type.

The Employment Tribunal accepted this argument at the first instance, finding that there were fundamental differences between contracts that enabled full-–time, permanent employment and those that allowed for zero-hours contracts.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal, however, overturned this decision and concluded that, in the circumstances, zero-hours contracts of employment did qualify as a contract of the same type as a full-time contract for permanent employment. Contract types as set out in the regulations are extremely broad. Essentially, they are as follows:

“(1) Contracts of employment;

(2) Contracts of apprenticeship;

(3) Worker contracts of service; or

(4) Any other description of worker that it is reasonable for the employer to treat differently on the ground that workers of that description have a different type of contract.”

The EAT found that applying an extremely narrow view of these categories would effectively bar those who were engaged under zero-hours contracts from pursuing claims of less-favourable treatment under the regulations, as they would only be able to pursue claims based on contracts of the same type, i.e. zero-hours contracts. The EAT found such an interpretation to be “self-defeating” and considered that, in comparing types of contracts, tribunals should apply a broad interpretation to allow staff to pursue claims where they have been subjected to less-favourable treatment

What does this mean for employers using zero-hours contracts?

This decision highlights that treating any employee less favourably because of their contractual status opens up employers to risks of claims of less-favourable treatment. This is particularly relevant in relation to claims for zero-hours workers, in light of the potential indirect discrimination issues that can be tied in to part-time work.

Provided employers continue to maintain consistent standards of treatment among their workforces, then the decision in Roddis should have a limited impact upon their day to day operations.

For more information on the Part-Time Workers Regulations or any of the other issues raised in this article, please contact Michael Tait in the Bristol Employment team by emailing [email protected] or calling 0117 904 7723.