Under the Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2002, most fixed-term employees will be entitled to the same contractual rights (pro-rata) as permanent comparable employees of the same employer.
An employee will count as being a fixed-term employee, regardless of when their contract began, if they have a contract of employment which is made for a specific length of time or a contract of employment where the employee is contracted to do a particular task.
Under the regulations, all fixed-term employees will have the same contractual rights as their permanent colleagues, unless the employer can show there are good reasons why not.
Contractual rights are rights given by the employment contract, as opposed to those given by law.
For example, bonuses, contractual maternity pay and leave, holiday entitlement above the statutory minimum, contractual redundancy pay and rights.
The regulations state that a fixed-term employee should not be discriminated against simply because they are a fixed-term employee, unless the different treatment can be justified on some objective grounds.
This means that the employer can only treat a fixed-term employee differently to a comparable permanent employee if they have another valid reason for doing so which is nothing to do with the fact that the employee works on a fixed-term contract.
For example, a fixed-term employee is on a contract of three months and a comparator has a company car.
The employer may decide not to offer the car if the cost of doing so is high and the travel need can be met in some other way.
The regulations specifically state that, unless the differing treatment can be justified on objective grounds, fixed-term employees must not be treated differently to permanent employees when giving certain contractual rights dependent on length of service.
For example, an employer gives extra contractual holiday to permanent employees but not to fixed-term employees, because all the permanent employees have worked there for more than two years but none of the fixed-term employees have.
This discrimination would only be justified if the employer could show objective reasons why the employee has to have worked for two years before they are entitled to it.
Since October 2002 employees on fixed term contracts with continuous employment of two years or more and employees on task contracts where there is no specific date for the contract to end and where the contract lasts for two years or more have had the right to claim statutory redundancy pay.
In a redundancy situation, fixed-term employees should not be treated less favourably with regard to contractual redundancy rights than comparable permanent employees, unless the treatment can be justified on objective grounds.
This means that, for example, the employee should have the same access to help and training to find alternative employment, and the same contractual redundancy pay (pro-rata).
Fixed-term employees should not be selected for redundancy purely because they are on fixed-term contracts, unless this is objectively justified.
The EC Directive on which the Regulations are based requires that employers should not be able to keep employees on a succession of fixed-term contracts and thereby deny them their full employment rights.
The regulations therefore state that if fixed-term employees have their contracts renewed or are re-engaged on a new fixed-term contract when they already have a period of four or more years’ continuous employment the renewal or new contract takes effect as a permanent contract unless it can be objectively justified.
Further information on the rights of fixed-term employees is available from your local CAB or from the Department for Employment and Learning by telephoning (028) 9025-7580 or from their website at www.delni.gov.uk/er.
Siobhan Harding is an information and policy officer with Citizens Advice