How many hours is full-time vs. part-time?

Last updated: July 14, 2024
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Kai Dickerson
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How many hours is full-time vs. part-time?
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It’s easy to assume that a “full-time job” means working Monday through Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm. That’s been our workplace default for years.

But it’s not as cut and dry as that — full-time isn’t a standard legal definition, with clear-cut hours and days of the week.

When you’re on the job hunt, those definitions can be confusing or misleading. As such, you might end up applying to jobs that aren’t a good fit for your schedule and work-life balance.

In this article, we’ll closely examine what full-time employment is, how different employers define full-time, and some common misconceptions about full-time work.

By the end, you’ll have a clearer idea of what you’re looking for when searching for full-time work — or you may even decide that part-time is the best option.

What is full-time employment?

83% of the American workforce is employed full-time — a category the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines as working 35 hours per week or more.

But if you’re filtering job postings by full-time as you search for open positions, you might find that some employers define full-time as 30 hours per week, while others might require 40 hours or more.

That’s because the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a major U.S. employment law, doesn’t provide a legal definition of full-time employment. Instead, individual agencies and employers define full-time employment for their specific needs.

You don’t need to worry about these legal definitions too much as a job candidate. In most cases, all you need to know is how your prospective employer defines full-time employment and what benefits full-time employees can expect.

There’s just one legal definition of full-time employment that you might want to keep in mind. The IRS defines full-time employment as working an average of 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month, and employers with 50 or more full-time employees must provide minimum essential healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

This can be handy to remember to ensure you’re getting the benefits you’re legally entitled to.

In short, if you’re looking for full-time work, you can typically expect to work between 30 and 40 hours per week. This results in a higher income than part-time employment (since you’re logging more hours) but doesn’t always guarantee health insurance, sick leave, or other benefits eligibility.

How many hours per day is considered full-time?

Like the definition of full-time work, a full-time job’s daily requirements can vary greatly from employer to employer or even from position to position within a company.

Your work hours will likely depend on how your employer defines full-time and how the work is structured.

For instance, nurses often work four consecutive night shifts, 12 hours long each, and then have four consecutive days off. For teachers, full-time work usually means five to six teaching hours per day, five days a week.

Traditionally, however, full-time employment refers to working an average of eight hours per day, five days per week, for a total of 40 weekly hours.

According to the IRS, there are two methods for determining full-time employee status. These are as follows:

  • The monthly measurement method: The employer determines if you are a full-time employee on a month-by-month basis by checking whether you clock in at least 130 hours of service for each month.

  • The look-back measurement method: The employer determines your status as a full-time employee during the so-called stability period based on the hours of service you did in the preceding period.

An hour of service is an hour for which you get paid, regardless of your physical presence at work. Paid sick days count, too. Volunteering, on the other hand, doesn’t.

The lines get blurry when it comes to occupations like commissioned salespeople or airline employees. Technically, these individuals don’t strictly work eight hours a day — their hours of service are harder to track.

Because of that, the IRS requires employers to “use a reasonable method of crediting hours of service” in accordance with the coverage they provide.

Full-time vs part-time jobs: what’s the difference?

Two critical differences between full-time and part-time jobs are the number of hours you work per week and your eligibility for benefits.

Full-time positions typically require 30-40 hours per week.

Part-time positions require fewer hours than a full-time job — typically less than 30.

You’ll find a lot of variation in these definitions from workplace to workplace. Some full-time positions may expect more than 40 hours per week. Some part-time jobs may offer paid time off or partial health care coverage.

Don’t get too hung up on whether you need a full-time or part-time position when looking for a new position. Instead, consider how many hours per week you’d like to work and what benefits you need to make a job a good fit for you. Then look for jobs that meet those specific criteria, whether defined as full-time or part-time.

Full-time vs part-time jobs: employee benefits

The Affordable Care Act has a set of regulations regarding employee benefits.

Technically, small employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees aren’t obliged to provide health insurance; however, they often do because health benefits attract more job applicants.

Healthcare tax credits can help them cover those costs.

Instead of small group health insurance, small businesses may offer a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA). You’ll be able to accept or decline your employer’s offer.

Large employers with 50 or more full-time employees must offer affordable minimum essential coverage to full-time employees and their dependents; otherwise, they may be subject to a penalty.

In general, you’re more likely to get healthcare coverage as a full-time employee. Some companies offer part-time jobs with benefits, but they aren’t legally required to do so.

Full-time vs part-time jobs: which is right for you?

While there are certainly pros to full-time work, there are also cons. Here are some of each in detail.

Pros of a full-time job

  • Higher pay. A full-time job gives you a more stable and predictable income. As such, the probability that you’ll have to spread yourself thin working two jobs is lower.

  • Benefits and perks. You get access to benefits such as healthcare, retirement plans, and paid time off.

  • Career advancement. A full-time job makes it easier to focus on one career path and set long-term professional goals.

  • Structure. Having a routine provides a sense of purpose and satisfaction that side gigs sometimes can’t offer.

  • Personal advancement. As a full-time employee, you’ll be able to build long-lasting relationships with your colleagues and managers.

Cons of a full-time job

  • Commitment. A full-time job requires a larger time commitment and may cause you to abandon your hobbies or put them on hold.

  • Inconvenience. You’ll face more commuting time and higher transportation costs (unless your employer offers hybrid work options or compensation for commuting).

  • Demands. Investing more time and effort in a single job — leading to more responsibilities — can increase stress.

  • Rigid schedule. If you’re a full-time employee, it might be difficult — or even impossible — to find someone to swap your shift with should an emergency occur.

Now to the upsides and downsides of working fewer than 30 hours a week.

Pros of a part-time job

  • Flexibility and freedom. You’ll have more free time to focus on personal hobbies or take care of your family and household.

  • Decent pay. The extra free time may outweigh the amount of money you miss out on when you work part-time.

  • More learning opportunities. You can combine your job with remote or in-person studying and gain new skills and experiences.

  • Lower stress level. Even the most stressful part-time work can be easier to shake off than full-time work because you get more free time to unwind.

Cons of a part-time job

  • Hidden expenses. Part-time jobs often come with fewer benefits and may not include access to healthcare or retirement plans.

  • Less stability. Your workload may not be as predictable, and your income will be lower — so much so that you might be forced to balance multiple part-time jobs.

  • Harder to grow. Part-time employment often makes it more difficult to pursue professional goals and move up in a company.

  • Lack of security. Part-time jobs are often temporary. As a result, they don’t guarantee long-term job security.

Hourly restrictions for teen workers

14- and 15-year-olds

Fourteen years old is the minimum age for employment in the U.S. At this age, teenagers are generally only allowed to work outside of school hours, no more than three hours on a school day, and no more than eight hours per day during school breaks.

16- and 17-year-olds

These teenagers can be employed for unlimited hours doing any job that has not been declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.

Overtime and minimum wage

For non-agricultural jobs, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that covered employees who work more than 40 hours in a workweek be paid at a rate of no less than one-and-one-half times their regular rate of pay for the overtime hours they work. This includes teenage workers who are at least 16 years old.

Younger teens aren’t allowed to work overtime.

Some states may have their own laws and regulations that set additional restrictions regarding the employment of teen workers.

Common misconceptions about full-time jobs

As you have learned in this article, there are a lot of mixed definitions and understandings of full-time work.

To clear things up, we’re debunking a few common misconceptions.

Myth: There are standard definitions for employment benefits

It’s easy to assume that there is a standardized set of employment benefits governing time off, overtime pay, and more. While there are some legal guidelines for wages and overtime, employers can generally define their benefits and employee eligibility however they like.

Your eligibility for overtime pay, salary over minimum wage, and other things can change a lot, so carefully read your job offer and employee handbook to understand what full-time means at your company and in your position.

Myth: Full-time means the same thing at every company

While government agencies define full-time for workplaces with more than 50 employees, other employers can define full-time however they like.

You’ll find that full-time generally means a 40-hour workweek, but most other characteristics — like daily schedules, health insurance, and paid time off — vary. Ask lots of questions and review your job offer carefully to make sure you understand what you qualify for.

Is a full-time job right for you?

Let’s sum it up:

Full-time jobs usually involve working about 35–40 hours per week and often come with benefits like health insurance.

Part-time jobs involve working less than 30 hours a week and rarely include benefits.

Part-time employment offers flexibility but lacks security. Full-time work, on the other hand, gives you more security but leaves you less free time.

To determine whether a full-time job is right for you, consider how much money you need to make to live comfortably, your career goals, and what’s important to you in terms of work-life balance. Healthcare coverage is also a crucial factor to consider when choosing between part-time and full-time work.

Check out our Getting Hired Resource Center for more tips on landing the perfect job for your lifestyle. Or visit the Jobcase job board to start your new job search today. Just type in the job type and your location, and see what’s out there!

1 Comment


Michele George
Bullet point
Lvn at Pediatric Licensed Vocational Nurse

Can you be hired for a full time job and be cut hours down to 24 hrs a week whenever they want to? No one can live off t his or should have to wonder from week to week after3 yeasrs of getting 38+ hrs whwhaat they will be a ble to work next week? Is there not s one kind of help or law for large company doing t his to their workers while supervisors a nd management keeps their hours asnd salary? Signed papers upon being hired for 40 hrs a week? How caan t hey get outb of this?