How Many Hours a Week Is a Full-Time Job?

Regulations, Company Policies, and Overtime Pay Requirements

This illustration describes what a full-time week is including "In the past, 40 hours was the typical work week," "Today, there's no universally accepted, or government-set, definition for full-time employment," and "Individual employers determine how many hours a week are considered full-time, whether 30 hours, 35 hours, or 37.5 hours."

 Maddy Price © The Balance

What determines whether an employee is full-time or part-time? How many hours per week do you need to work to be considered full-time? In the United States, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t prescribe any legal guidelines that dictate whether or not a worker is a full-time employee.

What is Full-Time Employment?

The determination of what constitutes full-time employment depends on the company's policy and practice of defining full-time employees with the exception of designations under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

According to the American Time Use Survey, full-time workers put in 8.5 hours on average during a typical workday. So how many hours a week are you expected to work if you are a full-time employee?

Even though many people consider 35 or 40 hours a week full-time, the number of hours you are expected to work can vary depending on your employer. In some cases, it's less; for other employers, it can be more.

Traditional Standard Workweek

The standard for full-time employment was typically 40 hours a week in the past. However, many employers now consider employees as full-time when they work fewer hours (i.e., over 30 hours, 35 hours, or 37.5 hours). Under the ACA, employees who work 30 or more hours per week are entitled to health insurance; however, beyond that, companies may set whatever standard they like for full-time compensation and other benefits.

Full-time employees are often more likely to be provided with benefits, including a pension, health insurance, paid vacation, and sick time, which are not offered to part-time employees.

However, there are no requirements for employers to provide benefits to employees other than those mandated by law. In some cases, employers also provide benefits to part-timers.

When you are hired, you should be advised as to your employment status and eligibility for company-provided benefits based on whether you are full-time or part-time. If your status changes, you should also be informed by your manager or human resources department.

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Definition of Full-Time Employment

With the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the definition of a full-time employee has been prescribed as a worker who spends an average of 30 or more hours per week on the job. Employers with 50 or more employees are required to offer health care to full-time employees under the ACA.

Organizations can choose a historical period of three to 12 months to assign a full-time status to workers if they averaged 30 or more hours during that period of time. Once designated as full-time, employers must keep workers in that status for at least six months.

Employment Law Regulating Hours Worked

Beyond ACA requirements, individual employers are free to set standards for their workforce. There are no federal guidelines that regulate the number of hours employees age 16 or over can work.

The Fair Labor Standards Act dictates that employers must pay non-exempt employees time and one-half for any hours worked above 40 per week. An exempt employee paid a salary is not entitled to overtime pay for hours worked beyond 40 during a workweek.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Jobs

Some employers have adjusted the structure of jobs and allocated more positions requiring less than 30 hours per week to avoid the burden of paying benefits. The share of jobs that were part-time in 1968 was only 13.5% and has currently risen slightly to 14.3% of the workforce.

Historical data also indicates that employers offer fewer full-time and a higher number of part-time positions during recessionary periods. Since the last recession, there has been a continued shift towards a more intensive hiring of part-time employees rather than full-time workers.

Women are twice as likely as men to be classified as part-time. In 2016, about 25% of women worked part-time, versus about 12% of men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Check on Company Policy

Company policy determines the hours that employees are expected to work. The company may specify a set number of hours and, optionally, what your work schedule will be. For example, your employee handbook may specify 9 am to 6 pm or state 45 hours per week.

Official employer designations regarding full-time employment generally range from 35 to 45 hours, with 40 hours being by far the most common standard. Some companies consider 50 hours a week full-time for exempt employees.

In some cases, especially at a start-up, it can be whatever number of hours it takes to get the job done. The company may not set a standard schedule or number of hours that employees are expected to work.

Informal expectations for staff can differ markedly from the minimum hours required to be classified as full-time at an organization. If the type of work schedule hasn't been clarified when you are interviewing for a job, carefully investigate what is expected to be considered a top-performing employee at the company if you have concerns about maintaining a balanced lifestyle.

Ask about the hours you will be expected to work when you have a job offer in hand. Before you accept the offer, be sure that you can commit to the number of hours per week you will be expected to work. You’ll also want to know if your pay changes for working overtime hours.

Key Takeaways

For the Most Part, Employers Determine What Constitutes Full-Time Hours: The ACA requires most employers to offer health care benefits to employees who work at least 30 hours per week.

Find Out Company Policy Before You Start Your Job: The organization should provide a work schedule and outline expectations, including hours and pay.

Some Companies Offer Benefits for Part-Time Positions:  Although they are not required to do so, employers may offer benefits for certain part-time positions. Check company policy.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "Full-Time Employment." Accessed May 14, 2020.

  2. IRS. "Identifying Full-time Employees." Accessed May 14, 2020.

  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "American Time Use Survey." Accessed May 14, 2020.

  4. HealthCare.gov. "Full-Time Employee (FTE)." Accessed May 14, 2020.

  5. U.S. Department of Labor. Fair Labor Standards Act. "Wages and the Fair Labor Standards Act." Accessed May 14, 2020.

  6. U.S. Department of Labor. "Overtime." Accessed May 14, 2020.

  7. MarketWatch. "Businesses Eliminated Hundreds of Thousands of Full-Time Jobs To Avoid Obamacare Mandate." Accessed May 14, 2020.

  8. Advisor Perspectives. "The Ratio of Part-Time Employed: During April 2020." Accessed May 14, 2020.

  9. IZA World of Labor. "Why Does Part-Time Employment Increase in Recessions?" Accessed May 14, 2020.

  10. EPI. "Still Falling Short on Hours and Pay." Accessed May 14, 2020.

  11. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Percentage of Employed Women Working Full Time Little Changed Over Past 5 Decades." Accessed May 14, 2020.