There is no law that broadly defines how many hours is “part-time” work. Instead, it is up to the employer to define what “part-time” means. They can call a job “part-time” even if it would require you to work over 30 hours. Because part-time employees are entitled to fewer benefits, worker misclassification is common.
Are there any laws that define part-time work?
There are no federal laws that state how many hours you have to work to be a full-time or a part-time worker. There are a handful of laws that use the number of hours to define part-time work for specific circumstances, such as when you are entitled to health insurance. However, employers can label a job as full- or part-time with little oversight. A part-time job can be a role that requires anywhere from 1 hour in a week to 35 or 40.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal law that generally governs workplace rules. However, the FLSA is silent on the distinction between full-time and part-time work.
The U.S. Department of Labor, through the Bureau of Labor Statistics, defines part-time workers as those who usually work fewer than 35 hours per week.1 However, this definition is only used for statistical purposes. It is not a legal definition.
One law that defines part-time work is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Also known as Obamacare, under the ACA you are part-time if you work less than 30 hours per workweek.2 However, this law only applies to employer-provided healthcare coverage requirements. The ACA only requires some employers to offer health insurance to full-time employees – those that work over 30 hours per week.
Another federal law that defines part-time work is the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Under ERISA, if you complete 1,000 hours of work in a 12-month period then you gain eligibility to participate in a retirement plan offered by your employer.3 This means that a little less than 19.5 hours per week is full-time employment under ERISA.
However, these and other laws that define part-time work only apply to specific circumstances. They do not apply broadly to all situations. You may be considered a part-time worker by one law, but a full-time worker by another law that requires fewer hours.
Without legal requirements, employers have lots of discretion in how to label particular jobs. It makes it difficult for job seekers to tell how demanding or time-consuming a role will be. This can complicate your job search without the help of a recruiter.
Do part-time employees get the same benefits as full-time employees?
Part-time employees tend to get fewer workplace benefits than workers in full-time jobs. For many workers, their personal circumstances make full-time work impossible. Others prefer working on a part-time basis for the flexible schedule.
Some of the benefits or perks that workers in part-time employment will generally miss out on are:
- employer-provided insurance, including health, dental, and life insurance,
- retirement plans,
- full social security benefits,
- paid time off,
- vacation time,
- sick leave,
- holiday pay,
- parental leave, and
- a fixed work schedule.
While some employers provide these benefits to part-timers, they do not have to in many states. Other states, including California, legally require employers to provide some of these benefits of a full-time position to part-time workers.
What workplace rights do part-time workers have?
While part-time workers may not have access to all of the benefits that full-time workers enjoy, they still have important legal rights. Some of these include the right to:
- overtime pay,
- the minimum wage,
- meal and rest periods,
- lunch breaks,
- freedom from workplace harassment, and
- a discrimination-free workplace.
Just because you are a part-time worker does not mean that these legal protections do not apply to you.
What can I do if my employer is misclassifying me as part-time?
If your employer is calling your job a part-time role but is demanding full-time hours, you can file a misclassification lawsuit. This lawsuit demands that you be properly treated in the workplace; whether with full-time benefits or with part-time hours. The lawsuit also demands compensation for any wages or benefits that you have been deprived of in the past.
Many of these misclassification lawsuits become class actions. If you are being misclassified, there is a good chance that your employer is doing the same to other part-time workers.
Misclassification of part-time workers is not uncommon. Some employers see it as an opportunity to get more work from employees for less compensation. This saves on the company’s bottom line.
What is the law in California?
There is no state employment law in California that defines part-time work as being less than a certain number of hours. The Labor Market Information Division of the California Employment Development Department defines part-time work as less than 35 work hours.4 This definition, however, is not legally binding. It is only used to calculate employment statistics.
While there is no broad definition of part-time work in California, part-time workers do benefit from stronger legal protections than in other states. Some of these legal rights and protections include:
- 1 extra hour of pay for minimum wage workers if the employee works a split shift,5
- a minimum wage that is significantly higher than the national minimum, and
- paid sick days for part-time workers who have at least 30 days of employment in the calendar year.6
These labor laws are some of the most favorable ones in the country for people in part-time positions. For more discussion, see our article on full-time hours in California.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.
- 79 Fed. Reg. 8,581 (Feb. 12, 2014).
- 29 CFR 1052.
- See California Labor Market Review, June 2022, page 4.
- Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders 1-15, section 4(C).
- California Labor Code 246 LAB.