Asking staff to shift from full-time to part-time work can be a difficult conversation to have, especially as this will typically require them to take a drop in wages. However, providing your client has a solid business reason and follows the correct procedure they should be able to do this with minimum fuss.
Before proceeding, your client should consider if they need the employee to switch to part-time due to a reduction in available work. If so, this is likely to be considered a redundancy situation and your client would need to follow the correct redundancy procedure. However, if there is no reduction in work and responsibilities will instead simply be shifted around your client should proceed with the restructuring.
Successfully switching from full-time to part-time work will require an amendment to the terms of an individual’s contract of employment. As the contract is an agreement between two parties, your client and their employee, terms can generally only be changed if both of them agree to it. Before they can come to any agreement your client must engage in consultation with the employee and explain how the proposed changes stand to impact them.
Employees will generally be more responsive to the consultation if your client explains the business reason behind the decision. As you have indicated that your client can no longer financially support a full-time contract, they should make this clear to the employee. It is also important that your client does not simply treat the consultation as a ‘box-ticking exercise’, instead of allowing the employee to suggest alternative arrangements over a series of meetings.
Providing the consultation goes well and both parties agree, your client may amend the contractual terms to reflect the new working arrangement. You must get a signed agreement to the changes from the employee, either in the form of an amended contract or a letter to confirm the changes. Your client should also consider when the change will be effective and ensure they give adequate notice to the employee.
However, if after the consultation both parties come to an impasse, your client could serve notice to terminate the existing contract and attempt to re-engage the employee on these new terms. When doing so your client must follow the correct dismissal process, including giving the employee a chance to appeal, to avoid any unfair dismissal claims. If the dismissed employee refuses to re-apply, then your client may seek alternative applicants who are prepared to work on a part-time basis.
Overall it is important that your client treads carefully when seeking to change contractual terms. Whilst they are entitled to act in favour of pressing business needs they must avoid forcing new terms upon individuals without proper consultation.
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