University Lecturer Strikes Important Blow for Part-time Workers

In Roddis v Sheffield Hallam University, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that the fact that the claimant was employed under a zero-hours contract did not mean that his contract could not be compared with that of a colleague who worked full time for the purposes of his claim that he had suffered less favourable treatment as a part-time worker.

The case concerned an associate university lecturer who worked as and when required by his employer. After he lodged a complaint under the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000, an Employment Tribunal (ET) found that, although it did not advertise itself as such, his contract was clearly of the zero-hours variety.

The ET went on to dismiss his claim on the ground that no valid comparison could be drawn between his position and that of a full-time, salaried, lecturer in that they could not be said to work under the 'same type of contract', within the meaning of Regulation 2 of the Regulations.

In upholding the associate lecturer's challenge to that ruling, the EAT found that the ET had erred in law in adopting too narrow an interpretation of Regulation 2. Both he and his full-time comparator were employed by the same employer and both their contracts were permanent, in the sense that they each had the protection of notice periods and had acquired statutory protection from unfair dismissal by dint of their length of service.

In the EAT's view, it could not be that a zero-hours contract of itself constitutes a different type of contract for the purposes of Regulation 2, since the consequence of that would be that an employee on a zero-hours contract would never be able to compare himself with a full-time worker.

In substituting a decision that the associate lecturer was employed under the same type of contract as his full-time comparator, the EAT further noted that, if the ET's interpretation of Regulation 2 were correct, it would frustrate the entire purpose of the Regulations, which is to enable comparisons to be made and to prohibit unjustified less favourable treatment on the ground of part-time worker status.

The case was sent back to the same ET for determinations to be reached as to whether the associate lecturer and his full-time colleague were engaged in the same or broadly similar work and, if so, whether the former had been subjected to less favourable treatment, contrary to Regulation 5.