What Is an Employee Work Schedule?

Woman clocking in for work
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An employee's work schedule includes the days and times that he or she is expected to be working. In most cases, this will be a set number of days and hours.

When looking for jobs, it is helpful to know what kind of work schedule you are looking for. You can use this information to narrow your job search and to help you prepare for interview questions related to the work schedule.

Read below for descriptions of different work schedules, and for tips on how to use information on job schedules to help you find the right job for you.

The “9-5” Work Schedule

The "9-5" schedule is the most common work schedule, requiring employees to work Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, many jobs differ slightly in their schedules. For example, some “9-5” jobs are Wednesday through Sunday, rather than Monday through Friday. Others require employees work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. or some other slightly different set of hours.

The variations in a work schedule are the result of the type of job and company. A restaurant hostess might have to work from 4 pm to midnight, for example, or a security guard might have to work overnight.

Shift Work Schedule

Shift work schedules happen when a company divides the day into shifts and assigns employees to work set periods of time. Sometimes these shifts vary day to day or week to week (these are known as rotating schedules), while other times an employee is hired to work a specific shift (these are known as fixed schedules).

There are also modified shift schedules, in which companies do not run 24/7, but instead open early and close late. Employees take shifts throughout the day to cover these hours. For example, someone might have a shift from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., while another person might have a shift from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Shift work is particularly common in medicine, where many doctors and nurses work on a rotating shift schedule. Other careers that typically have shift schedules are law enforcement, security, the military, transportation, and retail, among others. Shift schedules might involve alternating day and night shifts, working four days of shifts and then having three days off, working four twelve-hour shifts a week, or some other combination of shifts.

Flexible Work Schedule

Other work schedules are flexible. Flexible schedules allow employees to vary their arrival and departure, and sometimes even choose the days that they work. For example, a company might allow employees to come in any time they want, as long as they complete 8 hours of work every day.

Other companies have slightly stricter, but still flexible, schedules. For example, an organization might let employees arrive any time between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., and leave any time between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. They might also be allowed to take a day off during the workweek, as long as they come in on a weekend day.

Part-Time and Full-Time Schedules

A standard definition of a full-time employee is someone who works a 40-hour week, but there is no official, legal guideline. Similarly, there is no legal guideline for the number of hours worked by part-time employees in a week – it's simply defined as someone who works fewer hours per week than a full-time employee at the same company.

A common difference between full- and part-time employees is schedule: full-time employees often have a set schedule, which does not vary from week-to-week. Often, they do not have to clock in or clock out. While this can also be the case for part-time employees, a part-time employee’s schedule often varies greatly based on seasonality, the business of the company, and other factors.

Another common difference is that full-time employees are more likely to receive benefits such as health insurance, paid vacation time, and sick time. These are often not given to part-time employees.

Finally, most full-time employees are considered exempt, which means they are not required to be paid overtime. Most part-time employees are considered nonexempt, which means they receive overtime pay for any additional work after 40 hours of work in a week.

Work Schedule and Your Job Search

When job searching, you should think about what kind of work schedule you want. When looking at job listings, only apply for jobs that have schedules you know you can handle. For example, if you are looking for a part-time job, do not apply to full-time positions.

Many job search websites have an option under “Advanced Search” that allows you to narrow your search by type of schedule. This can help you find jobs that are right for you.

Also be prepared to answer interview questions about the job schedule. For example, if it is a demanding full-time job, employers might ask questions about whether you can handle working long hours. If you are being interviewed for jobs with a flexible or shift schedule, be prepared to answer questions about how flexible you are.

When you are hired, you should have a sense of your work schedule. You should find out your employment status and eligibility for company-provided benefits based on whether you are full-time or part-time.

State and Federal Laws

There aren't any requirements regarding scheduling and what hours an employee can be scheduled to work, other than the child labor law requirements for minors who are under age 18.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires nonexempt workers to receive overtime pay for time worked over 40 hours. Make sure you know whether you are an exempt or nonexempt employee.

For more information on the laws surrounding your employment, particularly flexible schedules, shift work, and any night work, see the Department of Labor website.