The Delicate Art of Choosing Part-Time vs. Full-Time Workers

It may seem odd to revisit the idea of full-time vs. part-time work. After all, we’ve used the terms for ages at this point. 

But have you ever sat down and defined part-time vs. full-time work at your business? What it means to be full-time vs. part-time, the distribution of each across your teams, and if this distribution best serve your goals?

It’s an easy exercise with the potential for a huge payoff. It can make it clearer which employment laws apply to you (and can benefit you and your employees), help you build better teams, and be a more efficient, profitable operation overall.

Let’s start by looking at the legal definitions of the two types of work—or, more accurately, a lack thereof. 

What is Considered a Part-Time Job? 

While there’s no concrete definition of part-time work in the US, what separates part-time work from full-time work largely comes down to the number of working hours. 

Here’s what three governing bodies have to say on the matter:

    • US Department of Labor (DOL): “The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not define full-time employment or part-time employment. This is a matter generally to be determined by the employer.”
    • US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): “Full-time workers are those who usually work 35 or more hours per week. Part-time workers are those who usually work fewer than 35 hours per week.”
    • Internal Revenue Service (IRS): “For purposes of the employer shared responsibility provisions, a full-time employee is, for a calendar month, an employee employed on average at least 30 hours of service per week, or 130 hours of service per month.”

In terms of authority, you may want to listen to the DOL and IRS more than the BLS. 

That’s because the BLS’s definitions of full time and part time come from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and are for statistical purposes only. This means their definitions, while useful in letting you know how part-time work is currently being defined by real US employers, aren’t legal definitions. 

With all of this in mind, we can loosely define a part-time job in the US as:

  • A job with fewer than 30 working hours per week, or 130 hours per month, unless otherwise defined by the employer.

Types of Part-Time Jobs

There are many jobs that can be fulfilled on a part-time basis. Some of the most common include:

  • Retail positions (cashier, sales associate)
  • Customer service representative
  • Receptionist or front desk positions
  • Administrative assistant
  • Data entry clerk
  • Food service jobs (waiter/waitress, barista)
  • Tutor or teaching assistant
  • Freelance or gig work (writing, graphic design, programming)
  • Library assistant or clerk
  • Call center operator
  • Personal assistant or secretary
  • Event staff or coordinator
  • Childcare provider or babysitter
  • Fitness instructor or personal trainer
  • Home health aide or caregiver
  • Receptionist or front desk positions
  • Telemarketer
  • Research assistant
  • Delivery driver

What is a Full-Time Job? 

Like with part-time work, there’s no one legal definition of full-time work in the US.

However, building on our loose definition of part-time work as 30 or fewer working hours per week, we can loosely define a full-time job in the US as:

  • A job with 31-40 working hours per week (often closer to 40), or as defined by the employer.

Types of full-time jobs

Some jobs that are more typically filled on a full-time basis include:

  • Software developer or programmer
  • Registered nurse or healthcare professional
  • Accountant or financial analyst
  • Marketing manager or specialist
  • Human resources manager or specialist
  • Project manager
  • Sales representative or sales manager
  • Teacher or educator
  • Engineer (civil, mechanical, electrical, etc.)
  • Operations manager
  • Customer service manager
  • IT (Information Technology) specialist or administrator
  • Lawyer or legal assistant
  • Managerial roles in retail, hospitality, or other industries
  • Financial advisor or planner
  • Scientist or researcher
  • Social worker
  • Electrician or plumber
  • Police officer or law enforcement professional
  • Architect
  • Graphic designer or art director

Pros and Cons of Part-Time Jobs 

Pros of part-time jobs

  • Flexibility: Having part-time workers makes scheduling easier. You can adjust staffing levels based on our business needs, and more easily find fill-ins if someone calls in sick.
  • Cost savings: Pay, benefits, and other employee costs are often lower with part-time employees than with full-time ones. 
  • Diverse skill sets: The less committed nature of part-time work makes bringing in new people easier, which can be a blessing if you need specialized expertise for specific tasks.
  • Adaptability: As demand wavers, you can easily increase and decrease your team’s capacity with part-time workers.
  • Increased productivity: Working fewer hours, part-time workers can bring more energy to their jobs.
  • Access to a larger labor pool: You can tap into a broader pool of available workers, such as students, retirees, and those seeking supplemental income for part-time positions.
  • Risk mitigation: Less commitment means less risk during uncertain times.

Cons of part-time jobs

  • Reduced continuity: Part-time workers, given their different schedules, may not have the same level of commitment and continuity as your full-time team members. This could potentially impact your team’s cohesion.
  • Training costs: Dealing with constant turnover among part-time employees may result in higher training costs, as new hires might need more frequent onboarding.
  • Less employee engagement: Part-time workers might not feel as connected to your company culture, leading to lower levels of engagement and loyalty.
  • Possible communication challenges: Juggling the varying schedules of part-time workers might introduce some communication and coordination challenges.
  • Potential for burnout: Part-time workers may have other obligations outside of their job with you, which might mean burnout from burning the candle at both ends.

Pros and Cons of Full-Time Jobs 

Pros of full-time jobs

  • Consistency and stability: The peace of having stable, full-time employees might be worth more than what you’d save bringing in part-time workers. 
  • Higher commitment: Expect higher levels of commitment to your company, goals, and long-term success.
  • Career development: Full-time workers are more likely to develop and advance within your company.
  • Investment in training: It’s easier to invest when you know someone’s going to be around for a while.
  • Better team integration: Familiarity and consistency lends to team bonding, and a bonded team means a more productive, happy team. 

Cons of full-time jobs

  • Higher costs: Going full-time often means more benefits like health insurance and retirement plans, bumping up your overall labor costs.
  • Reduced flexibility: Full-time workers might not have the same wiggle room in their schedules, making it trickier to quickly adapt when workloads change or someone calls in sick.
  • Potential for burnout: Longer hours means more of a risk of burnout, especially over extended periods of time.
  • Limited access to specialized skills: Bringing in a part-time worker for a specific skill or task is a lot easier (and often more affordable).
  • Less adaptability: If something changes at your company, reorganizing a full-time workforce is often more challenging. 

Payments and Benefits 

Hours worked is one way in which part-time and full-time employees differ; another is how they are paid and the benefits they receive. 

Part-time payment and benefits

There’s no law stating how part-time employees must be paid. That said, the most common way to pay part-time employees is by the hour. 

A time clock begins when part-time employees clock in for work at the beginning of the day, pauses when they go for break or lunch, resumes afterward, and ends whenever they leave for the day. The total time worked during this time is what their paychecks are based on.

If you pay employees by the hour, you must at least pay them your state’s legal minimum wage. If your state doesn’t have a minimum wage, you must at least pay them the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

In cases where part-time work exceeds 40 hours per week (remember, there is no stated legal boundary separating part-time from full-time work), you also have to pay overtime. According to the Department of Labor, overtime pay is “not less than time and one-half the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 hours in a workweek.

For example, if you normally pay someone $10 an hour, you would need to pay them at least $15 an hour for overtime. 

Keep in mind that overtime only applies to non-exempt workers, who are both hourly and salaried workers that:

  • Earn less than $684 per week or $35,568 annually
  • Perform job duties outside of the exempt professions

Other than being paid hourly, part-time workers may receive a fixed salary or a predetermined amount for completing a specific project or task

There can also be combinations of payment methods. For example, someone may be paid by the hour and earn a commission on sales they make. 

Do part-time employees get benefits? 

US law doesn’t cover the provision of benefits to part-time employees.

This means that, as long as you follow all minimum federal, state, and local requirements, you have control over which part-time employees get which benefits, if any. 

Full-time payment and benefits

Beyond what’s required in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the US government doesn’t mandate how full-time employees are to be paid.

While full-time employees can be paid hourly, they most commonly receive a fixed salary. This is most often a lump sum paid monthly, or bi-monthly, based on an assumed, ongoing 40-hour-per-week commitment. 

The same rules outlined above around overtime apply to full-time work: If a non-exempt full-time employee works more than 40 hours per week, that employee is entitled to overtime pay.

Do full-time employees get benefits? 

Largely speaking, you’re not required by law to give full-time employees benefits, which can include: 

  • Health insurance
  • Retirement plans (e.g., 401(k))
  • Paid time off (vacation, holidays, sick leave)
  • Life insurance
  • Disability insurance
  • Flexible spending accounts (FSAs)
  • Health savings accounts (HSAs)
  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs)
  • Educational assistance/tuition reimbursement
  • Wellness programs
  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Employee discounts

Sometimes, you are required to provide benefits. Consider these examples (read more about each of these acts in the section below):

  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires applicable large employers (those with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees) to offer affordable health insurance that meets certain minimum essential coverage standards.
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires covered employers to provide eligible employees with unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. However, this is leave without pay.

It also depends on where you’re located in the country, as there are state and local regulations relating to benefits. For example, in Massachusetts, employees who work for employers having 11 or more employees may earn and use up to 40 hours of paid sick time per calendar year.

Outside of these situations, which benefits you provide—and to whom—is largely up to you. 

Full-Time and Part-Time Employment Law

For your own research, we recommend reading these pieces of legislation on the topic of full- vs. part-time jobs. 

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) 

The “Affordable Care Act” (ACA) is the name for the comprehensive health care reform law (passed in 2010) and its amendments. The law addresses health insurance coverage, health care costs, and preventive care.

Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law that sets minimum standards for most voluntarily established retirement and health plans in private industry to provide protection for individuals in these plans.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.

Part time vs. full time FAQ

Which is better: full-time or part-time?

See the chart below for helping deciding if part-time or full-time makes more sense for your business needs:

Aspect Full-time employment Part-time employment
Costs Higher costs due to benefits, like health insurance and retirement plans Lower costs as benefits are often reduced or not provided
Commitment Higher commitment and loyalty from employees to the company Potentially lower commitment and loyalty due to reduced work hours
Flexibility Limited flexibility in work schedules; less adaptable to changing workloads Greater flexibility in scheduling, more adaptable to changing demands
Training investment Greater investment in training, leading to a skilled and knowledgeable workforce Higher turnover may result in more frequent training costs
Career development More significant opportunities for career development and advancement Limited opportunities for career advancement within the company
Team integration Better integration into the team, fostering stronger working relationships Potentially less integration, impacting team cohesion
Productivity Increased productivity with longer periods of focused work Potential for increased productivity during shorter, focused hours
Access to specialized skills Access to a wide range of specialized skills within full-time workforce Limited access to specialized skills if not present in part-time staff
Employee loyalty Higher levels of employee loyalty, contributing to engagement and retention Potentially lower loyalty due to part-time nature of employment
Adaptability Less adaptable to sudden changes or fluctuations in workload More adaptable to changes in demand or work requirements
Diversity in scheduling Limited diversity in scheduling, potentially challenging to cover all shifts More diverse scheduling options, facilitating coverage
Risk mitigation May be less flexible for risk mitigation in economic uncertainties Offers flexibility in workforce, aiding risk mitigation strategies
Employee burnout risk Potential for burnout with longer working hours Risk of burnout if working multiple part-time jobs for income

What are part-time hours in the United States?

Based on guidance from the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Internal Revenue Service, we can loosely define part-time hours in the US as being fewer than 30 working hours per week, unless otherwise defined by the employer.

Do part-time employees get benefits?

Part-time employees can get benefits, but in most cases aren’t entitled to them. Which employees get which benefits is largely decided by the employer.

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