There is no state employment law in California that defines part-time work as being less than a certain number of hours. Instead, it is generally up to the employer to define what “part-time” means.
The Labor Market Information Division of the California Employment Development Department defines part-time work as less than 35 work hours.1 This definition, however, is not legally binding, and it is only used to calculate employment statistics.
Do California part-time workers have protections?
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,2
- 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.3
In addition, both full-time and part-time workers have rights to:
- overtime pay,
- the minimum wage,
- meal and rest periods,
- lunch breaks,
- freedom from workplace harassment, and
- a discrimination-free workplace.
Still, 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.
Are there any federal 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:
- 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.4 However, this definition is only used for statistical purposes and is not a legal definition.
- Also known as Obamacare, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you are part-time if you work less than 30 hours per workweek.5
- Under Employee Retirement Income Security Act (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.6 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. You may be considered a part-time worker by one law, but a full-time worker by another law that requires fewer hours.
Furthermore, 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 a week to 35 or 40.
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 in California.
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.