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Most of us think of a full-time job as one we work from nine to five, Monday through Friday. The real definition of full-time work depends more on the number of hours worked than when they are worked, though, and there is some wiggle room regarding what qualifies as part-time vs full-time hours. The Department of Labor doesn’t even define these terms. Instead, it leaves the determinations up to individual employers. That said, there are some generally agreed upon standards relating to the difference between full-time and part-time work.
The Difference Between Full Time and Part Time
The majority of employers define a full-time employee as one who works a standard 40-hour week. The Fair Labor Standards Act determines 40 hours as the threshold before employers must pay overtime wages to nonexempt employees. This is often defined as eight hours of work Monday through Friday, but it can vary considerably by the employer. A part-time employee is typically considered one who works 30 or fewer hours per week. However, there is a great deal of leeway in how employers define the difference between part-time and full-time jobs. Some employers consider employees who work 35 or 37.5 hours per week as full time. Others define anyone who works 30 or fewer hours as a part-time worker, making anyone who works more than 30 hours a full-time employee by default.
Employment Status and Benefits
The difference between a full-time and part-time job influences more than the number of hours a person works. Part-time employees usually do not qualify for the same benefits and privileges as those enjoyed by full-time employees. For example, part-time workers typically don’t qualify for medical and dental insurance, paid time off or other benefits, such as tuition assistance. However, most part-time employees are considered exempt, meaning they qualify for overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours, whereas many full-time employees are salaried or nonexempt and do not receive overtime pay even when they work well beyond the 40-hour threshold.
Temporary Workers and Independent Contractors
The definition of full-time hours versus part-time hours becomes even more complex when you consider temporary workers and independent contractors. Temporary workers are hired for a specific project or defined period. Their temporary status is communicated in writing, and they may work either full time or part time. In either case, employers are not required to provide full-time benefits, regardless of hours worked, until an employee's status changes.
Independent contractors, defined as those who work for a specific amount of time and have substantial control over the work they do and when they do it, do not qualify for any employee benefits or protections including unemployment compensation regardless of how many hours they work. Because they are responsible for determining their work hours and have the power to decline or accept work, none of the rules regarding employment status apply.