What Is a Part-Time Job?

Male business owner placing Help Wanted sign in art supply shop window
••• Hero Images / Getty Images

What is a part-time job? The answer isn't as simple as you might think. There isn't a set number of hours per week that is considered part-time employment compared to full-time employment. It is therefore up to the employer to decide which jobs are classified as part-time positions.

What Determines Whether an Employee Is Part-Time?

There are no legal guidelines that determine whether or not an employee is a part-time or full-time employee. The Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets legal requirements in the U.S. for wages, hours, and overtime, doesn’t specify how many hours per week is considered full-time employment .

The Bureau of Labor Statistics regards workers who work 35 hours a week as full-time, but that definition is for statistical purposes only .  

A determination of whether an employee is working part-time depends on the company's policy and practice of defining employees and the hours required to be considered full-time.

The standard for full-time was typically 40 hours a week in the past. However, many employers consider employees as working part-time based on a different schedule, e.g. under 30 hours or 35 hours a week.

How Many Hours

A part-time job is a position that requires employees to work a lower number of hours than would be considered full-time by their employer. For example, an employer might classify a worker as part-time if they work less than 35 hours per week.

Part-time employees typically include students, moms and dads, retirees, and other workers who don't want or need the time commitment of a full-time position.

There are other workers who may hold two or more part-time jobs instead of working full-time at one organization.

Types of Part-Time Jobs

Part-time jobs are available in a variety of industry and career fields — retail and hospitality positions are the most common, but most industries use some part-time workers to supplement their full-time staff.

In a down economy, part-time jobs may be filled by workers who would prefer full-time employment, but can't find a full-time job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to these employees as “involuntary part-time workers.” When the economy is struggling, employers may have more part-time jobs to offer, as they may not be required to offer the same health and personal benefits as a full-time position.

Reasons for Workers Preferring to Work Part-Time

part time work infographic
The Balance

However, not every part-time worker is an involuntary part-time worker. Some prefer to work less than full-time.

These are just a few reasons why some workers opt for part-time schedules:

  • Child care or family responsibilities
  • Completing a degree or acquiring further training
  • Reducing stress and having time for other hobbies and interests
  • Launch their own business ventures while still earning an income
  • Having more time off than is typical for full-time workers

Many part-time jobs are low-paying, high-stress occupations like those in the foodservice industry … but not all of them. Some part-time jobs pay enough to live on comfortably while pursuing other things – while others are easy enough to provide a lower stress lifestyle or to combine with another part or full-time job.

Employers Hiring

Employers hiring part-time workers are typically seeking employees with flexibility in scheduling. When seeking a part-time position, be sure to take into account your other commitments, so that you can inform the potential employer of your availability.

Part-time positions can sometimes work their way into full-time work, depending on the structure of the company. If you are looking for full-time employment, sometimes taking a part-time position is a good way to get your foot in the door, so to speak. It can be a way to gain the experience necessary for full-time employment, and also a way to show an employer your commitment in the workplace.


Part-time positions don't typically have the level of benefits associated with full-time positions. However, the Affordable Care Act currently requires employers with 50 or more workers to offer insurance to 95% or more of employees who work an average of 30 hours a week. 

This means that you could be defined as a part-time employee by your company and still be eligible for health insurance.

When applying for part-time jobs, inquire about what benefits are available and which employees qualify for benefits coverage. Don’t assume that because you’re working part-time, you won’t have access to benefits.

Finally, you might not need benefits from your employer. If you have coverage through a spouse or parent, working part-time may pay nearly what a full-time position does (especially if paid hourly), and allow you more flexibility to pursue other interests as well.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "Full-Time Employment," Accessed Oct. 4, 2019.

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Concepts and Definitions," Accessed Oct. 4, 2019.

  3. IRS. Affordable Care Act. "Identifying Full-time Employees," Accessed Oct. 4, 2019.