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Federal Determination of Part Time Vs. Full Time

by Ruth Mayhew, studioD

Whether an organization employs one person or more than 500 people, compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act is mandatory. The FLSA is the federal law that governs minimum wage, overtime pay, exempt and nonexempt classification, break times and working hours. However, part-time and full-time employment are aspects of working hours the FLSA does not regulate.

Federal Laws

The federal government assumes a hands-off approach concerning what constitutes part-time versus full-time employment. The FLSA gives employers discretion to make decisions that affect business operations, such as employees' hours except where it concerns child labor and youth employment. Federal and state laws prohibit working hours for youth in certain age groups. However, the federal government doesn't oversee private sector employers' workplace policies related to classification of working hours for adult employees.

Enforcement Vs. Analysis

The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division enforces the FLSA. The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles data on the workforce and the labor market. For statistical analyses, the BLS considers a 35-hour workweek full-time, and anything from one to 34 hours as part-time employment. Employers who confuse the BLS indicators with the WHD regulations should always go with the agency that enforces regulations, not the agency that analyzes statistics.

Workplace Policies

Employers implement workplace policies that enable them to meet business needs, which includes scheduling part-time and full-time employment. It's not mandatory to have both part-time and full-time employees, nor is it required that companies employ workers for strictly part-time or full-time schedules. It's up to the employer to decide what constitutes part-time or full-time work. Although many organizations consider a 40-hour workweek full-time employment, others have 37.5-hour workweeks or even 35-hour workweeks classified as full-time schedules.


The closest the FLSA comes to determining part-time versus full-time employment are overtime regulations. Under federal law, hourly nonexempt workers who put in more than 40 hours in a workweek must be paid one and a half times their regular hourly rate. However, the FLSA regulations on overtime don't suggest that the 40-hour threshold is the equivalent of a full-time schedule.

Employer Obligations

Many employers provide health insurance coverage and paid time off to full-time workers, but not to part-time workers, so organizations classify part-time or full-time employees to determine those entitled to benefits. But, that could change when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act employers' obligations go into effect. Beginning in 2014, the PPACA institutes employers' obligations for companies that employ at least 50 full-time workers. According to this health-care reform act, full-time employees will be those who work 30 or more hours each week.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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