What’s the difference between a part time job and a full time job? How many hours per week is “part time,” exactly? You’d think the answer would be simple, wouldn’t you?
It’s not that simple, though. You may be surprised to learn that there’s not much in the way of strict legal standards for these terms. In fact, it’s mostly up to the company you work for. “Part time” is what they decide it is.
Still, whether you’re an employer or an employee, there are a few important things you should know about the differences between part time and full time jobs. If you’re an employer, there are certain legal requirements that you should be aware of.
Traditionally, industries like food service and retail have been the home of part time employees. But with the rise of the gig economy, part time jobs are cropping up in more workplaces and in more industries.
If you’re a worker in a part time job, you probably won’t get as many benefits as full time employees — although you may find there are other advantages to working part time hours.
Let’s take a closer look at part time jobs. If you’re looking for work on an online job board like ZipRecruiter, or if you’re an employer posting an open position, here’s what you need to know.
How Many Hours Is Part Time?
Employers have a lot of leeway in how they define part time employees vs. full time employees, and how many hours each kind of employee works per week.
How many hours? For some companies, a part time job is anything less than 35 hours per week, while full time is anything above 35 hours per week.
For other companies, a part time employee works less than 32 hours per week, while full time employees work 32 – 40 hours per week.
For a smaller number of companies, the cutoff is at 30 hours per week.
The federal government doesn’t have a single, across-the-board standard for how many hours is part time. The U.S. Department of Labor has no official definition for part time or full time hours. Neither does the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which includes a lot of federal workplace regulations.
The IRS Says 30 Hours or Fewer
However, the Internal Revenue Service uses the following definition for the purposes of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare: A full time employee works an average of at least 30 hours per week, or 130 hours per month.
Using that definition, larger companies that have at least 50 full time staffers are required to offer health insurance coverage for their employees under the Affordable Care Act.
Do Part Time Employees Get Any Benefits?
The main drawback of part time employment is that you’re less likely to qualify for workplace benefits offered by your employer.
It ultimately depends on the employer and their company policies. But part time employees are less likely to get health insurance, vacation days, sick days, retirement plans, dental and vision plans, tuition assistance or stock options.
Part time employees do get some benefits that are required by the federal government, or are administered by state governments.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides you with unpaid leave and protects your job, as long as you worked at 1,250 hours over the past 12 months. That’s about 24 hours per week, so many part time workers qualify for FMLA.
Unemployment benefits are administered by the states, and different states have different rules for whether you qualify for unemployment compensation if you lose your job.
Workers Comp and Disability
Most workers, whether they’re part time or full time workers, are eligible for workers compensation if they get injured at work or become ill because of work. This is a federally administered program.
What Do Employers Need to Know?
Businesses can save money by making certain positions part time jobs instead of full time, although not every position is suited for that. Sometimes you just really need full time employees to get the job done. And sometimes, if you’re advertising a position on a job board like ZipRecruiter, making a position full time is the only way to attract qualified job seekers.
Although companies have a certain amount of leeway in how they define part time hours vs. full time hours, there are some legal pitfalls you should avoid.
Part time employees can be scheduled to work 40 hours a week, or even more, during set periods of time — for example, during the busy holiday season in a retail store.
If part time employees are putting in more than 40 hours per week, though, you’ll probably be required to pay them overtime wages.
Also, if a part time employee is consistently working full time hours but isn’t getting full time benefits, that can be an IRS violation and can get the employer fined.
The Drawbacks and Positives of Part Time Work
Part time jobs have some real drawbacks compared to full time employment. By working fewer hours, you’re earning less money, and you’re less likely to have health insurance through your employer.
That means either you go without health insurance, or you get insured through your spouse, or you buy it through the federal health insurance marketplace, which is less than ideal. It’s nice that Obamacare is at least an option for part time workers, but it’s generally not as good as employer-sponsored health insurance.
Depending on your personal situation, though, there can be positives to being a part time employee:
- You have more time for yourself, more flexibility, and less workplace stress.
- If you have the ability and flexibility to work more than one part-time job, you can earn plenty of money that way.
- You have the opportunity to learn new skills in a field you’re less familiar with, if you start out as a part time employee. This way, you can use your part time job as a launching pad for eventually getting a full time job in your chosen field.
So, how many hours is part time vs. full time employment? The answer is, “It depends.” The federal government and the Fair Labor Standards Act mostly don’t care.
Whether you’re looking for work on an online job board like ZipRecruiter, or if you’re an employer posting an open position there, that’s what you need to know about the state of part time work these days.
Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.