You’ve heard this kind of story before. Some one you know get’s their dream part time job. It fits well in with their family responsibilities so they can pick up the kids or avoid costly day care. But before too long they start to be requested to attend ‘dial in’ teleconferences on their day off, or attend to emails and other ‘urgent’ matters outside of their part time hours. Additional duties are added to their role and before they know it they are conducting a full time job in their part time role, but on part time pay.
It is a very common scenario in the workplace where many part time working parents experience ‘work creep’ into their personal hours and are made to feel that their part time status is a ‘privilege’ they should be thankful for, and the consequence is the expectation of being flexible. Very flexible.
Kate, a mum of three, went part time after she went on maternity leave from her employer with her second child. “On my non-working days, my manager would call me and announce there was a meeting on in an hour and that they expected me to teleconference in. I may have been out at swimming lessons with the kids, or at play group and I would have to dump everything, pack the kids in the car and get home so I could get on the conference call. I felt like I was ‘on-call’ all the time”
It highlights the exclusivity expectation from employers who don’t want to employ people full time, yet don’t want their part timers to be working or conducting business elsewhere on their non working days. It seems as though they want workers to be ‘waiting on the sidelines’ at their beck and call.
Recently I was talking with an aggrieved candidate who was turned down for a 3 day a week part-time job role because they had another casual job on the other two days. I have also heard of others who also have not been able to secure part time roles because they had a small freelance business interest on the side that they wanted to pursue part time.
Can employers do this or is it unlawful?
The short answer is that they can and it isn’t unlawful. The only unlawful reasons for rejecting candidates is based on race, colour, religion, sex, sexual preference, age, pregnancy, marital status, family or carer responsibility, physical or mental disability, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.
At worst it is just old-fashioned, bad recruitment practice, and a short sighted reason for knocking back a good candidate. Employers throw up many flimsy assumptions that the individual won’t be ‘committed’ to the job or company if they have an alternative job or business, to citing weak and contrived ‘conflict of interest’ reasons. Instead they target the desperate mum who feels beholdened to the employer so they can keep their family life stable and balanced, then exploits them by pressuring them to work outside their part time hours for nothing, using the beating stick of increasing their hours to full time to keep getting them to work unpaid.
Cyndia, a working mother of two boys, knows this scenario well. “It started out as the odd call or request for a report. It then escalated until I was regularly doing work and attending weekly meetings remotely on my off days”. When asked why she accepted the demands she responded “I was often told by my manager that they were doing me a favour, by allowing me to work part time and that they could get a full time worker if they wanted to. I was always made to feel as though I was the problem’.
It raises the question should part time employees get an ‘on call’ allowance for attending to work issues outside their contracted hours?
There are many shift work and customer support roles where an on call allowance is the norm. If you are required to attend to a work issue outside your normal working hours there is an escalation scale of additional payment depending on the time of day and day of week you are called out. But this doesn’t seem to extend to part time roles even when it is effectively the same.
People have many different reasons for working part time, which frankly employers don’t have a right to know why. Employers have a right to know if the candidate is adequately skilled, experienced, and can meet the reasonable requirements of the role for the days required. Here is where the subjectivity gets warped when the ‘requirements’ open a loop hole to allow employers to exploit part timers by demanding exclusivity of availability on a full time basis.
Until there is an ability to shut down this practice through legislative means, part time workers who are regularly working beyond their hours need to learn how to establish boundaries early in the part time arrangement. Trying to wind it back is difficult, but can be achieved bit by bit over a period of time.
Anne-Marie is a sought after media commentator on HR, leadership, and business and has appeared in various publications including Sydney Morning Herald, Boss Magazine, NETT Magazine, Marie Claire, CLEO, My Business, Dynamic Business, Cosmopolitan & HR Monthly. In June 2012 Anne-Marie Co-authored ‘Mind Your Own Business’, a guide for small businesses, published by Mithra Publishing in the UK.