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 over time, 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 he or she works 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 percent 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.