Employment issues: Part-time student workers

However, although there is an opportunity for businesses to recruit young, enthusiastic and capable employees on a part-time basis, Vanessa James, Head of Employment at SA Law, says that businesses should be aware of the employment law issues that can arise around part-time workers. 
Part-time workers
Employers should not treat part-time workers less favourably on grounds of their part-time status unless it can be objectively justified. Students employed on a part-time basis should not be treated less favourably than a comparable full-time worker with regard to the terms of their employment contract, and should not suffer any other detriment by an act, or deliberate failure to act, by their employer. Part-time workers can now challenge this without having to bring a sex discrimination or equal pay claim.  
Part-time workers must also be given pro rated entitlement to all benefits, including annual leave.  Some benefits are not as easily pro rated, for example health insurance and gym membership.  In these circumstances it would be best practice to allow full access to such benefits to all workers, or to pay part-time workers a pro rated cash equivalent in lieu. It would not be advisable for employers to simply deprive part-time workers of particular benefits if it is not objectively justifiable to do so. 
National minimum wage
It is also essential that businesses are aware of legislation with regards to National Minimum Wage. There are currently different rates for three different age groups of workers. The standard rate for adults aged 22 or over is £5.80/hour. For workers aged between 18 and 21 the national minimum wage is £4.83/hour, and the young workers rate, for those under 18 (but above the compulsory schools age and not in apprenticeship) is £3.57. It is conceivable that student part-time workers will qualify for different rates during the course of their employment. If businesses breach these rules then the penalties can be significant as the employee can claim several years worth of back pay.     
Right to request time off to study or train
Employees of companies with 250 or more people are currently entitled to this right, which is expected to extend to all employees from April 2011.  This may become particularly relevant when student workers need time off to study before exams.  In order to be able to make such a request the employee must have 26 weeks’ continuous employment on the date of the request.  Businesses must consider such requests, but do not have to grant it if they have good business reasons.  The procedure for this request closely follows the statutory flexible working procedure and involves holding a meeting to discuss the employee’s request and giving the employee the right to appeal against a decision to refuse the request.
There are of course benefits to employing part time students, as they are likely to be highly motivated individuals who are keen to gain experience, improve their skills and develop knowledge. However, if businesses should are not aware of the employment issues that come with such workers, the consequences could be costly.