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Zero hours contracts and full-time permanent contracts: not always so different

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In the recent case of Roddis v Sheffield Hallam University, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that an employee on a zero hours contract could compare himself to a colleague on a full-time contract for the purposes of bringing a claim for less favourable treatment under the Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 (the PTW Regulations).

Mr Roddis was employed by Sheffield Hallam University (the University) as a part-time associate lecturer. He brought various claims against the University which included a claim for less favourable treatment under the PTW Regulations.  For the purposes of this part of his claim, he sought to compare himself with a colleague, who was also a lecturer, but on a full-time permanent contract.

An employment tribunal dismissed the claim under the PTW Regulations on the basis that Mr Roddis was not on the same type of contract as his chosen comparator.

Mr Roddis appealed the tribunal’s decision. The EAT upheld the appeal and found that Mr Roddis’s zero hours’ contract was not a different type of contract to that of his colleague on a full-time permanent contract. In reaching this decision, the EAT found that the categories of different types of contract are broadly defined in the PTW Regulations to enable a comparison to be made between full and part-time workers.  As an employee on a zero hours contract will rarely (and, by very definition, should not) work full-time, the existence of a zero hours contract does not itself constitute its own type of contract for the purposes of the PTW Regulations.  If this was the case an employee on a zero hours contract would never be able to compare themselves to a full-time worker and would be unable to seek protection under the PTW Regulations.

For the purposes of the PTW Regulations, it was sufficient that Mr Roddis and his comparator were both employed under contracts of employment, at the same establishment, and that those contracts answered to broadly the same description (that is, as associate lecturers). The claim has been remitted back to the employment tribunal.

With a raft of employees engaged on zero hours contracts, this decision highlights that employers should be sure not to treat those employees less favourably than their full time counterparts because of their part-time status.