How Many Hours A Week Is Considered Part-Time?

By Chris Kolmar - Aug. 2, 2021
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Key Points:

  • There are no federal guidelines defining part-time or full-time employees

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines a part-time employee as one who works between 1-34 hours per week, and a full-time employee as one who works 35+ hours per week

  • Tax laws state that any employee of a company of 50+ employees who works less than 30 hours a week (on average) is considered part-time

  • There are 24.29 million part-time workers in the US, according to BLS data from June 2021

  • That’s a 4.8% drop in part-time workers from June 2020, but the amount of people now working part-time jobs for non-economic reasons is up 20%

As much as we’d like to give you a straightforward answer to the question “how many hours is part time,” it turns out to be a bit of a complicated issue. Legally, there are no federal guidelines specifically outlining what makes someone a part-time employee as opposed to a full-time employee.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a part-time employee is anyone who works between 1 and 34 hours per week, and a full-time employee is anyone working 35 hours or more. However, this number does not hold legal weight, as it isn’t an official statute. Still, many employers factor this rule of thumb into their policies and scheduling.

The Fair Labor Standards Act outlines legal requirements regarding hours and wages for part-time and full-time workers that must be followed, but, again, does not offer a specific number to distinguish between full-time and part-time.

Within organizations, there are typically some important differences between full-time and part-time workers regarding the benefits and perks they receive. Workers may choose (or, in some cases, be forced to take on) part-time positions for a variety of reasons.

In this article, we’ll discuss what a part-time job is, why someone might work a part-time job, and some of the best positions available for part-time work.

Definitions of a Part-Time Job

While there’s no clear-cut definition of a part-time job, various agencies all hint at an answer:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statisticsconsiders a worker to have part-time hours when their weekly work hours amount to fewer than 35. But to the dismay of many, there is no simple, cut-and-dry definition for part-time work.

    This is typically the standard that is followed in the United States. However, there are some discrepancies as it is not legally binding.

  • The Fair Labor Standards Act lays out various guidelines that govern federal minimum wage, overtime pay requirements, and child labor laws, but the lack of guidance on what constitutes part-time work leaves many questions unanswered. According to this statute, employers are responsible for determining part-time employment policies.

  • The IRS. Another source we can look to for clarity is the IRS guidelines on the difference between full-time and part-time employees. This guideline states that part-time employees average fewer than 30 hours per week in a month. However, this only applies to employers with 50 or more full-time employees (i.e., employers subject to the Affordable Care Act).

If you’re in the process of job-hunting for part-time positions, your best bet is to read the job description closely and make sure you understand the details. It may give you an expected range of hours for the position or outline the distinction between full-time and part-time workers and their benefits and compensation.

You can also try researching the company or organization you’re applying to and determine whether they have at least 50 full-time employees. If so, they are subject to the Affordable Care Act guidelines of part-time work equaling less than 30 hours on average per week.

Do You Get Benefits When Working Part-Time Hours?

One of the most important distinctions between part-time and full-time work is the difference in benefits. Part-time positions typically don’t enjoy the same benefits as full-time positions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t receive any benefits at all. This is why it is crucial to ask your employer for this information at the appropriate time, usually after a job offer has been extended.

Health insurance is one of the most important benefits that workers receive through their employer. If you have a prior healthcare arrangement – for instance, if you are on a spouse or parent’s healthcare plan – you may not need to worry about receiving healthcare through your employer.

However, if you need to receive healthcare through an employer, you should look into what benefits your potential employer can offer you. Ask your employer directly if you are eligible for health insurance benefits before accepting any job offers.

You can also feel free to ask about any other perks and benefits you would be eligible for. There are some companies out there offering benefits to part-time workers, so don’t get discouraged. You can even try searching for positions with those specific criteria in mind.

The Affordable Care Act guidelines mandate that any employer with 50 or more employees must offer health insurance to at least 95% of their employees who work 30 hours a week on average. So, working an average of 30 hours a week at these establishments means that you can receive health insurance.

However, if you’ve tried all you can and you still can’t find a part-time job that offers health insurance benefits, you still have options. Take some time to research health insurance providers and companies, as well as different types of health insurance, and pick the best one for you.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Discrepancy

At this point, you may be wondering why this seemingly simple issue turns out to be so complex. Like many things in life, it comes down to multiple parties with competing goals and varying amounts of power. The agendas of lawmakers, employers, and employees are sometimes in disagreement.

Work policies and the philosophies and histories behind those policies are so nuanced and complex that they can hardly be dissected in a doctoral thesis, let alone an article intended to help with job-hunting.

However, one factor we can discuss here is the influence of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers with 50 or more full-time employees must offer health insurance to their staff.

The Affordable Care Act is not to blame for this influence on employers, as this mandate is a helpful worker protection measure that was long overdue in the eyes of many.

Still, midsize to large companies recognized a “loophole” in this ruling. Since employees working 30 hours per week would be legally eligible for health insurance, many hiring managers have quietly adopted the practice of hiring “full-time equivalent” workers.

These workers are scheduled for 28 or 29 hours per week, as close to the line as possible while still being technically part-time.

These employees often have a strict policy of maintaining just below 30 hours a week or 130 hours a month so that the employer does not legally have to provide health insurance to them as full-time employees (or face a fine).

The weekly change of schedule compounds this frustrating scheduling. These full-time equivalent employees often find out no more than one or two weeks in advance when they will be working a 28 or 29 hours week. This eliminates the idea of part-time work, offering flexibility, and the freedom to engage in other tasks and responsibilities.

Companies that schedule in this way should be avoided at all costs. Attempting to deprive workers of legally entitled benefits through a technicality demonstrates a low value of workers as individuals. These organizations usually have other questionable labor practices, as well as poor company cultures.

There are exceptions, of course, where 28/29 hours a week can be acceptably called a part-time position. You may have extreme flexibility, great pay, or other measures in place to offer you fair compensation for your work.

Different Types of Part-Time Jobs

Part-time jobs can take on a lot of different forms. You can expect to work shorter workdays or fewer days than full-time employees. Because you are working fewer hours than a full-time worker, your schedule may take on different forms.

Here are some types of part-time jobs you might see:

  • Fixed part-time schedule. This is any regular, unchanging schedule with part-time hours. You’ll work in the same timeframe each day or each day of the week. There are never any questions about your schedule as it is always the same.

  • Unpredictable schedule. On the flip side, an unpredictable schedule is a schedule that is constantly changing. Your schedule may be revised every day or every week, depending on the needs of your employer. This can get a little hectic for some people but works well for others.

  • No schedule. These jobs have no set schedule and are instead based on completing tasks. However, it would take you long hours to complete your daily tasks, and your pay is often based on tasks completed rather than hours worked.

  • Job share schedule. In job-sharing positions, two employees will work part-time shifts equivalent to one full-time employee. Essentially, you are each working half the schedule of a regular employee.

  • Freelance schedule. Freelance workers are typically hired as a contract or temporary workers. There are many different types of freelance positions, often focused on a specific short-term project. Freelance workers often work remotely, but they may be required to work on-site.

  • Split schedule. Employees working a split schedule have a significant break in between their scheduled daily work hours. Employees with this schedule might work a few hours in the morning, have several hours off, then work a few hours in the evening.

    This is a great choice for people who have responsibilities that keep them from working a full-time shift.

  • On-call schedule. An on-call schedule is employed by organizations that need workers available 24/7, such as in the healthcare field. On-call workers must be available for work whenever necessary. Typically, on-call schedules rotate between employees.

Working Part-Time Hours: The Good and The Bad

There are several pros to working a part-time schedule, including:

  • Ability to prioritize or pursue other goals. With part-time work, you have free time to accomplish other goals or take care of other responsibilities. This makes part-time work a great option for students, teens, or working parents.

  • More flexibility than full-time work. Part-time jobs are typically much more flexible than full-time positions. You may even be in charge of creating your schedule or setting your hours.

  • Steady stream of income. With part-time work, you can make steady, reliable money without fully committing yourself to a full-time position. This can be a great source of supplemental income or a way to support yourself while pursuing other goals.

There are also some significant downsides to a part-time schedule, including:

  • In general, less income. Naturally, by working fewer hours than someone in a full-time position, you’ll be receiving less compensation in exchange. Part-time positions are also typically more entry-level and less specialized, equating to lower wages in most but not all cases.

  • Not receiving workplace benefits. As discussed previously, part-time workers are often not eligible for certain workplace perks and benefits, such as health and dental insurance. If this is a concern for you, it’s important to ask your employer about this as soon as possible.

  • Fewer opportunities for promotions and raises. It’s not that there are no opportunities for advancement for part-time workers. It’s just that they are fewer and farther between. Many advanced positions require a full-time work commitment.

Part-Time Jobs FAQ

  • How many hours is a part-time job vs. a full time job? The IRS and the Affordable Care Act define full-time work as more than 30 hours per week, on average, or 130+ hours each month. This only applies to employers with 50 or more employees that are not considered Applicable Large Employers (a special class of company) by the IRS.

  • Do part-time workers get benefits? It’s important to note that even full-time employees aren’t guaranteed benefits from their employer. While healthcare coverage is a requirement for most big companies under the ACA, most other benefits are considered perks rather than mandatory.

    That being said, there’s a cultural expectation in the US that full-time jobs come with benefits packages that include things besides health insurance, like paid time off (PTO), retirement plan options, and bonuses, to name a few of the most common perks. That expectation does not extend to part-time jobs, which are usually considered only a source of wages.

    Still, many companies offer part-time employees various perks, so you’ll have to research specific opportunities to learn more.

  • What jobs are commonly part-time? Historically, part-time jobs have usually been in retail, hospitality, or food service, but that’s beginning to change. More and more IT professionals are realizing that a part-time (and remote) occupation is entirely possible.

  • What rights are guaranteed to part-time workers? Part-time workers must be paid at least minimum wage.

    Additionally, in most states, if a part-time worker works over 40 hours in a given workweek, they must be paid overtime (time and a half pay) for every additional hour. In some states, working beyond 8 hours in a workday also makes you eligible for overtime pay, even as a part-time employee.

Best Part-Time Jobs

While there will always be service industry and part-time retail jobs to fill, there are also some lesser-known yet high-paying part-time positions that can be great options depending on your skills and experience. Some of the best are listed below:

  1. Computer Programmer. If you have knowledge or experience with coding languages, this is an excellent choice for you. Programmers help to optimize both the hidden details of the software and the user experience. Computer programmers often have the option of working part-time or freelance for companies.

  2. Graphic Designer. If you are a creative person with experience using graphic design tools, such as Photoshop, consider taking on a part-time graphic designer position. In this position, you’d be responsible for making print and web pieces according to your clients’ wishes.

  3. Writer. If you have experience or education in writing, there are various part-time writing opportunities available to you. This includes everything from articles to advertisements to films and more. This could be freelance work or in-house writing projects.

  4. Tax Preparer. If you have accounting experience, you can make some high income working as a tax preparer during peak tax season. In this position, you’d prepare the necessary documents and information on behalf of full-time accountants in order to lessen their workload during such a busy time.

  5. Hand Laborer. A hand laborer or manual laborer is a great position for anyone who can withstand some heavy lifting. Usually working in warehouses and factories, these workers help transport materials. This can be a great nightly job, but it is also very physically demanding.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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