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Part-time work typically requires fewer than 30 hours per week. However, the federal government doesn't provide a definition for part-time or full-time employees. This means the hours you work depend on the company, position, and agreement made between you and your employer.
The number of hours per week you're expected to work and how your employer designates employment status determines whether your role is full time or part time. Typically, part-time workers also receive fewer benefits and perks than full-time employees.
In this article, we'll outline what a part-time job is, why part-time positions might be a good fit for you, what benefits and perks you may be eligible for, and more.
What is a part-time job?
There is no clear-cut definition of a part-time job. A part-time job is one where you are required to work fewer hours than a full-time employee at the organization.
This is because there are a number of ways the law and employers can classify employees. As a general rule, employees who work fewer than 29 hours per week are considered part time. This can go as high as 35 hours per week depending on the position, company, and agreement. Theoretically, it's possible for an employee to work 40+ hours and still be considered part time but is rare.
The Fair Labor Standards Act governs federal minimum wage, overtime pay requirements, and child labor laws but allows employers to determine what a part-time employee is.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics considers workers who work fewer than 35 hours a week part time. This number is used for statistical purposes in the United States and has no legal binding. However, many employers use this number as a guideline for developing their own policies.
In contrast, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says more than 30 hours per week or 130 hours a month is full time. This applies to employers with 50 or more full-time employees. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act uses the same 30 hours per week standard for eligibility for benefits.
Most companies define part-time employees in their company policies by designating the number of hours per week that part-time employees can work.
For example, Amazon has three categories it uses to determine employee eligibility for benefits: part-time workers working 20-29 hours, reduced-time employees working 30-39 hours, and full-time employees working 40+ hours a week.
Full-time versus part-time jobs
As with part-time jobs, the Fair Labor Standards Act doesn't define full-time employment. The Act does provide overtime pay for non exempt employees who work more than 40 hours in a workweek.
The difference between part-time and full-time jobs is complicated as the number of hours considered as full time can vary. Traditionally, 40 hours per week has been considered full-time. This is changing as employers and lawmakers have moved toward requiring fewer hours to be considered full-time.
For example, the growing trend toward a four-day workweek. This means some companies now considered 32-hours a week full-time. Many 4-day workweek companies offer the same pay and company benefits to employees despite the compressed workweek.
Another factor is the influence of the Affordable Care Act on employers with 50 or more full-time employees. The Affordable Care Act mandates that these employers offer health insurance to all employees who work 30 hours per week.
To avoid this, some companies have begun to hire workers at 28 or 29 hours per week to keep them defined as part-time, which avoids the health insurance requirements.
Another trend is the gig economy. Gig economy workers tend to be considered as independent contractors or self-employed, which means they don't fall under full or part-time definitions.
Part-time job work schedules
Part-time employment schedules vary. When you're hired for a part-time position, the hours and day you work may be specified in advance (in the job posting) or your schedule may be set on a weekly or monthly basis by your employer.
For example, here are some possible job postings that refer to working part-time schedules:
- "We support employees who need flexible schedules and can support fewer days or scheduled hours for part-time employees."
- "You have the option of working part-time hours or working full-time hours."
- "This is a part-time position with a set number of hours and days per week."
- "We're happy to employee you on a part-time basis or in a full-time position."
Common schedules for part-time jobs
Part-time jobs come in many forms. You'll be expected to work shorter workdays or fewer days than full-time employees. As you work fewer hours, your schedule could take on one of these forms:
- Fixed part-time schedule: A regular, unchanging schedule with part-time hours. You'll be working the same time each day or each day of the week, e.g. your schedule will always be the same.
- Unpredictable: A constantly changing schedule that is set on a weekly or monthly basis based on the needs of your employer.
- No schedule: Jobs with no set hours that are based on completing tasks. Pay is often based on tasks completed rather than hours worked.
- Job share: Job-sharing is when two or more employees work part-time shifts and share the workload equivalent to one full-time employee.
- Freelance: Freelancers are typically hired on a contract or temporary basis, often for specific short-term projects. Note that freelancers often are exempt from employee benefits like paid time off, sick pay, etc.
- Split schedule: Employees working on a split schedule have significant breaks in their work hours. For example, they might work a few hours in the morning, have a few hours off, then work in the evening.
- On-call: An on-call schedule is employed by organizations that need workers to be available 24/7, such as healthcare or emergency services. On-call schedules are typically rotated between employees so people can rest.
The pros and cons of working part-time
There are many factors to think about before choosing a part-time position. As with any job, consider the company, role, commute time, and compensation. It's also important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages that are common among part-time roles.
Props of working part-time hours
Part-time positions are great for people who want:
- The ability to prioritize other goals or commitments: Working part-time means you have more free time to focus on other goals or commitments. This makes it a great option for students, teens, and parents.
- Increased flexibility: Part-time jobs tend to offer more flexibility than full-time positions. You may even be able to create your own schedule or hours that work for you.
- Steady income: Part-time work offers reliable income without the need to commit to a full-time position. This is great if you need income to support yourself while pursuing education, parenting, or other goals.
Cons of working part-time hours
While part-time positions can be beneficial, there are downsides including:
- Lower income: Naturally if you are working fewer hours than someone else in the same position, you'll receive less compensation. Part-time positions also tend to be more entry-level and lower skill which also reduces earning potential.
- Fewer workplace benefits: Because you are working fewer hours, you tend to not to eligible for certain perks or benefits that are offered to full-time employees.
- Fewer opportunities to progress: Promotions and raises tend to be rarer for part-time workers as higher positions require a full-time workload.
How to find out how many hours a week you'll work
If you're looking for a part-time position, you can find out how many hours you'll be working by:
- Reviewing the job posting: If you read the job description carefully, you may be able to tell how flexible the job is, and how many hours or days you are expected to work each week.
- Knowing your availability: You may be asked the hours or days you can work on a job application, so it's important to know your availability before applying. Many employers are flexible and can work around the schedules of students, parents, retirees, or people with other commitments.
- Asking during a job interview: If the schedule isn't mentioned, feel free to ask during the job interview if you aren't asked about your availability first. Ideally, you would have a list of when you're available that you can share. Try to be as flexible as you can because it makes it easier for the employer.
It's important to understand what is required of the role and if it fits your needs before agreeing to part-time work. You'll also want to research the company or organization you're applying for to determine if they have at least 50 full-time employees. If they do, they are subject to the Affordable Care Act which means part-time work is equal to less than 30 hours per week.
Part-time employee benefits and perks
One of the most important differences between part-time and full-time workers are benefits. As a part-time worker, you may be eligible for company benefits. However, part-time positions typically don't receive the same benefits as full-time positions.
This doesn't mean you will receive no benefits. Some benefits are statutory and must be provided by law. Others are offered by the company to attract talent.
The benefits you receive as a part-time employee will depend on the company you work for. In general, part-time employees enjoy fewer benefits than full-time employees. However, many companies offer great benefits for both groups.
For example, DoorDash offer flexible vacation days for salaried employees and generous vacation and sick days for their hourly team members.
With that said, employers in the United States aren't legally required to provide health insurance to part-time employees, even if they provide coverage to full-time employees. If you're a part-time employee, you may be able to purchase coverage via a health insurance marketplace or through industry-specific groups and organizations.
If you need to receive healthcare through an employer, look at the benefits potential employers offer you. You can ask directly if you would be eligible for health insurance before you accept a job offer.
You can also ask about any other perks or benefits you would be eligible for as a part-time worker.
Mandated employee benefits
Some benefits are mandated by law, regardless of employment status.
Mandated benefits vary state to state based on federal, state, or local law. For example, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that any employer with 50 or more employees must offer health insurance to individuals who work a minimum of 30 hours per week on average.
Family and medical leave
The U.S. Department of Labor's Family and Medical Leave Act provides eligible employees who have worked 1,250 hours over a 12 month period with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. This works out to roughly 24 hours per week. It also requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave.
Employees are eligible:
- For the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee;
- For placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care;
- To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or
- To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.
Some states go further and offer paid family leave. For example, New York mandates that employees who work a regular schedule of fewer than 20 hours per week have paid family leave after working 175 days. Employees who work more than 20 hours per week are eligible after 26 consecutive weeks of employment.
Unemployment benefits are administered at the state level, so eligibility for partial unemployment depends on the state you work in. Your employment history will also be factored into whether you qualify for unemployment compensation.
Workers' compensation and disability insurance
Workers defined as injured or experiencing serious medical illness may be eligible to receive workers' compensation coverage through federal programs. Each state also has its own guidelines for workers' compensation eligibility. The good news is most states make this available to all employees.
There are also federal and state programs that provide benefits to disabled workers. Other states require employers to provide disability coverage, others do not. This could come in the form of short-term coverage, long-term coverage, or both.
Best part-time jobs
While there are always part-time jobs available in the service industry or retail, there are also some lesser known but higher paying part-time positions that can be great if you have the required skills:
- Software engineer: If you can program, a part-time software engineering job can be an excellent choice.
- Graphic designer: If design is your strong suit, there's a good chance you'll be able to find a part-time job.
- Writer: If you can write, you can find a part-time job as a content marketer, copywriter, or SEO. This could be in a freelance, contract, or part-time position.
- Accountant: Many small businesses don't need a full-time accountant, so you can work part-time.
- SEO: Search engine optimization is a great role to do part-time as many companies don't need a full-time resource.
Part-time jobs FAQ
- How many hours is a part-time job? There is no standard definition for a part-time job. However, part-time work usually requires fewer than 30-35 hours a week. It's important to note that the IRS and Affordable Care Act both define full-time work as more than 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month.
- Do part-time workers get benefits? Part-time workers may get benefits depending on the state they live in, the size of the company they work for, and the numbers of hours they work per week. For example, if you work at least 30 hours per week at a company with 50 or more full-time employees you are entitled to healthcare coverage. That being said, most companies offer other benefits to full-time workers like paid time off (PTO), retirement plan options, and bonuses. However, this doesn't typically extend to part-time jobs.
- What jobs are commonly part-time? Part-time jobs are typically in retail, hospitality, food & beverage, or other service-based industries. However, it is becoming increasingly common to offer four-day workweeks at technology companies.
- What rights do part-time workers have? Part-time workers are entitled to minimum wage. Additionally, if you work more than 40 hours you will likely be entitled to overtime (time and a half pay) for every additional hour worked. In some states, you may even be eligible if you workday is more than 8 hours even as a part-time employee.
- What is the difference between a full-time job and part-time job? Employers decide how many hours per week is full time and part time. Part-time employees typically receive fewer benefits than full-time employees. For example, they may not receive paid time off, healthcare coverage, or paid sick leave.
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