What Is a Part-Time Employee?

Definition & Examples of a Part-Time Employee

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A part-time employee is someone who works fewer hours than what an employer considers to be full-time. The exact amount of hours is determined by each employer, and it can vary between companies.

Learn more about part-time employees, the types that exist, and the benefits of hiring them.

What Is a Part-Time Employee?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not define what constitutes a part-time employee. It's up to individual employers to make this classification.

Generally, part-time employees work fewer hours than full-time employees. But employers determine the exact amount of hours their employees must work to be considered part-time or full-time.

The FLSA protects part-time and full-time employees in the same way.

How Part-Time Employees Work

The classification of a part-time worker is based on the company's standard work schedule. Consequently, the definition of a part-time employee will vary from organization to organization. An employer usually defines what it considers to a part-time employee and publishes that in its employee handbook.

It's important to note that as work environments evolve, so does what constitutes full-time and part-time work. Traditionally, employers in the U.S. had identified a standard, full-time work week as being 40 hours. So many companies defined part-time employees as those who worked less than that standard 40-hour work week. Today, though, some employers count employees as full-time if they work fewer than 35 hours a week, and others have part-time employees who work 34 hours a week.

In many organizations, one differentiation between full-time and part-time employees is eligibility for benefits, such as health insurance, paid time off (PTO), paid vacation days, and sick leave. Some organizations enable part-time employees to collect a pro-rated set of benefits. In other organizations, part-time status means an employee cannot receive benefits.

In many cases, employees who are considered part-time are eligible to work overtime hours, and they must earn overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in a work week.

Types of Part-Time Employees

There are many ways to be a part-time employee. Some people may choose to hold multiple part-time jobs at different organizations instead of working for one company. Others may work part-time because they can't or don't want to commit to a full-time position.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts part-time workers into two categories: those who work part-time for economic reasons (also known as involuntary part-time workers) and those who do so for non-economic reasons.

Economic reasons include lack of work, poor business conditions, inability to find full-time work, and seasonal declines in demand. Noneconomic reasons include illness or other medical limitations, childcare or other family obligations, attending school or training, being in partial retirement, or having another job.

A variety of companies across most fields hire part-time workers. The retail, hospitality, and foodservice industries are known for hiring many part-time employees. Some companies may choose to hire part-time workers to complete specific projects or work during certain seasons. And other organizations hire part-time employees to fill in the gaps that their full-time positions aren't covering.

Advantages of Hiring Part-Time Employees

Many employers hire part-time employees to cut down on their costs of labor. They can save substantially by not offering benefits to part-time staff. For a small business owner who is hiring first employees, starting with part-time staff is less risky in terms of financial commitment.

Other companies consider hiring part-time employees to expand their ability to recruit qualified employees. For example, a stay-at-home parent may have the exact qualifications a company needs, but the individual is only available to work outside of the home from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Part-time employees often benefit from employers’ willingness to consider work schedule options such as flexible schedules and job sharing.

Another advantage of hiring part-time employees is that companies have the opportunity to try an employee out before committing to hiring them full time. It helps employers assess the individual's cultural fit, job fit, skills, and ability to learn and contribute.

Additionally, not all jobs require the services of an employee full time, and combining jobs may not fit the employee's skill set.

Key Takeaways

  • The definition of part-time work is defined by each employer and can vary across organizations.
  • Part-time employees generally work fewer hours than what an employer considers to be full-time.
  • Many types of industries and companies hire part-time workers for various reasons.
  • Hiring part-time workers offers many benefits to employers.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Concepts and Definitions: Usual Full Time and Usual Part Time: ." Accessed August 1, 2020.

  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Concepts and Definitions: Part Time for Economic or Noneconomic Reasons." Accessed August 1, 2020.