Know your rights: Part-time and casual work

Whether it’s your very first job or your first step outside of full-time work, understanding the difference between part-time and casual can help you choose a role that suits your needs. We’ve asked an employment lawyer to explain the distinctions.

The rights of all workers are protected in law, but the benefits and conditions of your next job will depend on how you’re employed. If you’re considering a part-time or casual role, what are you entitled to?

Here’s what you need to know about your rights for part-time or casual work.

Part-time versus casual

Dilshen Dahanayake, a solicitor at MinterEllisonRuddWatts, explains that a part-time worker is engaged as a permanent or fixed-term employee, but they don’t work full-time hours. Casual employees work on an ‘as and when requested’ basis.

“This means that casual employees only work when they accept work that is offered to them,” says Dahanayake. “Employers are not required to provide work to casuals, and casuals are not required to accept work.”

Hours

While part-time employees work a set number of hours per week, the hours that casuals work may vary – and the number of hours is not guaranteed.

“Unlike casual employees, part-time employees have guaranteed hours of work and they must work those hours,” says Dahanayake. “Their employment relationship with their employer continues even once they finish working their hours for the week.

“When a casual employee accepts work, they are only employed for the period of that work assignment. When the work ends, the employment relationship ends.”

Dahanayake says there are no legal requirements around shift lengths for casuals and part-timers, except when health and safety considerations come into play.

“Employers have the same health and safety obligations in respect of casuals and part-time workers as they do in respect of full-time employees,” he says.

Wages

Part-time employees earn a consistent wage based on their ordinary hours of work. In most cases, they’re automatically enrolled in the voluntary, work-based savings initiative, KiwiSaver.

Casual employees are paid on an hourly basis and are not automatically enrolled in a KiwiSaver scheme, unless they’ve have been working 28 days continuously, or they let their employer know that they want to opt in.

Benefits and entitlements

One of the key differences between part-timers and casuals is leave entitlements.

Dahanayake explains that part-time workers become entitled to four weeks’ annual leave after 12 months’ continuous service with their employer – and a ‘week’ is based on what an ordinary working week is for them.

“Casuals, on the other hand, are typically paid holiday pay at a rate of 8% of their gross earnings,” says Dahanayake. “This must be a separate identifiable component of their remuneration. This is on the basis that casual work is so intermittent or irregular that it is impracticable for the employer to provide the worker with four weeks’ annual leave.”

To be eligible for sick leave, bereavement leave and family violence leave, Dahanayake says workers must either complete six months’ continuous service with their employer, or work a certain pattern of hours in the preceding six months (at least an average of 10 hours a week, and at least one hour each week or at least 40 hours each month).

“Part-timers will typically become eligible for these leave types after being employed for six months,” says Dahanayake. “But casuals, whose employment is not continuous, will only be eligible if they work the qualifying pattern of hours.”

Dismissal

An employer may dismiss a worker with good reason – such as performance issues or serious misconduct – but a proper process must always be followed.

“Casual and part-time employees have the same rights of access to the New Zealand personal grievance and employment disputes regime as full-time employees,” says Dahanayake. “If a part-time or casual employee feels they have been unjustifiably dismissed, they could raise a personal grievance with their employer.”

Dahanayake adds that employers will usually try to resolve grievances informally. But if this doesn’t work, either the employee or the employer could apply for mediation through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

“If mediation is also unsuccessful, the employee could bring a claim for unjustified dismissal before the Employment Relations Authority.”

Legal rights

All workers in New Zealand are entitled to a copy of their employment agreement in writing. It must include terms and conditions that are at least as good as the minimum rights in the law. Your employer can’t change any part of your employment agreement unless you agree to it.

Dahanayake adds that if you’re a casual worker, you can’t be required to accept offers of work.

“If a casual is required to accept work, but they do not have guaranteed hours of work, this would constitute a ‘zero-hour contract’, which is unlawful in New Zealand.”

Whether you are working part time or casually, employers must provide appropriate training and information so that you can work safely. Employers also have a legal responsibility to ensure that everyone who works for them is treated fairly and with respect.

“If the employee feels they have been unlawfully discriminated against, they can raise a personal grievance for this, or bring a claim before the Employment Relations Authority if informal discussions and/or mediation are unsuccessful,” says Dahanayake.

“Alternatively, the employee could make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, but will need to choose whether to bring a claim before the Authority or make a complaint to the Commission — they won’t be able to do both.”

Understanding your employment rights can give you an extra layer of confidence at work. Your benefits and entitlements will differ depending on how you’re employed. Before you accept your next role, consider the conditions that matter most to you.

Information provided in this article is general only and it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. SEEK provides no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability or completeness. Before taking any course of action related to this article you should make your own inquiries and seek independent advice (including the appropriate legal advice) on whether it is suitable for your circumstances.