In California, if you work 40 or more hours per week this is considered to be full time. California does not, however, have a specific definition as to how many hours per week constitutes part-time work.
Full-time employees are often entitled to more workplace benefits than part-time employees. However, federal law may entitle you to
- healthcare benefits if you work more than 30 hours per week, and
- retirement benefits if you work more than 19.5 hours a week.
Do California labor laws define full-time work?
California Labor Code 515 LAB states that full-time employment means that you are working 40 hours per week.1
This definition is used to set the requirements for exempt employees. Certain exemptions require that you make at least twice the California minimum wage for full-time employment. These include the so-called “white collar” exemptions:
- administrative employees,
- executive employees, and
- professional employees.2
Working more than 40 hours in a week entitles you to overtime pay in California if you are a non-exempt employee.3 If a California employee works more than 8 hours in a single workday, he or she is also entitled to extra pay under California overtime laws. For hourly workers, the overtime rate is 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate of pay.4 For non-exempt salaried workers, your overtime rate is 1.5 times 1/40th of your weekly salary.5
See our related article, What does “full time exempt” mean? A labor lawyer explains.
What benefits do full-time workers enjoy that part-time workers do not?
Generally, full-time workers get more workplace benefits than part-time workers. Some of these benefits may include:
- parental leave,
- a fixed work schedule,
- holiday pay,
- sick leave,
- vacation time,
- other paid time off, like personal days,
- access to employer-sponsored retirement plans,
- employer-provided insurance plans, like health, dental, or life insurance, and
- retirement plans, like pensions or 401(k)s.
Some employers, however, choose to provide benefits to part-time employees that are not legally required. They often do this to:
- improve worker morale,
- decrease turnover,
- attract better talent,
- reduce worker burnout, and
- increase loyalty and workplace motivation.
What rights do part-time workers have in California?
Part-time workers do still have numerous important workplace rights. Some of the most important are their rights to:
- meal and rest periods, including an unpaid 30-minute meal break for every 5 hour shift,
- the state minimum wage, which is higher in California than in many other states, and which is even higher in some California counties and cities, like Los Angeles,
- lunch breaks,
- overtime pay, and
- a workplace that is free from discrimination or harassment.
California state law also entitles part-time workers to:
- paid sick time for employees who accumulate at least 30 days of work in the calendar year,6 and
- an extra hour of pay for minimum wage workers who have to work a split shift.7
What if my employer is misclassifying me as a part-time employee?
It is not uncommon for employers to classify people as part-time employees and then demand 40 hours of work per week. They often do this to cut costs by not providing the workplace benefits that full-time employees are entitled to receive.
If you are being misclassified as a part-time employee, you can file a misclassification lawsuit against your employer. These lawsuits are not solely for misclassified independent contractors. Misclassified part-time workers can use them, as well. Such claims demand:
- proper employee classification and access to the benefits that come with it, and
- compensation for unpaid wages and benefits that workers were deprived of in the past.
Many of these misclassification lawsuits become class actions. If your employer is misclassifying you as a part-time worker, other people in the company are likely also being misclassified.
It is essential to talk with an employment lawyer to decide how to proceed.
How do federal laws define full-time work?
No federal employment law defines what full-time work entails. However, some provide specific benefits to “full-time employees” and state how many hours you have to work to get them. Unfortunately, these definitions of “full-time work” differ.
One of these laws is the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). ERISA makes you eligible to participate in any retirement plans your employer provides, so long as you are a full-time employee. You become eligible if you work 1,000 hours in a year. This is slightly less than 19.5 hours per week.8
Another federal law that defines full-time work is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This law is also known as Obamacare. The ACA requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to offer their full-time employees healthcare benefits. Under the ACA, you are a full-time employee if you work more than 30 hours in a workweek.9
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor defines part-time work as less than 35 hours per week. However, this is not a legal definition and is only used for statistical purposes.10
While these laws provide clarity with regards to certain specific workplace benefits, there is no general federal law that defines full- or part-time work. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the federal law that provides the most guidance on workplace rights, does not adopt a 40-hour workweek or state a different number of hours that is necessary for full-time work.
- California Labor Code 515(c) LAB.
- California Labor Code 510 LAB.
- California Labor Code 515(d) LAB.
- California Labor Code 246 LAB.
- Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders 1-15, section 4(C).
- 29 CFR 1052.
- 79 Fed. Reg. 8581 (Feb. 12, 2014).
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.