Q: What’s the Difference Between a Part-Time and a Full-Time Employee?

For the most part, you as the employer can set the definition for what constitutes a full-time or part-time employee at your company, along with what benefits full-time or part-time employees can participate in.

Simple time tracking that syncs with payroll.

The only time you can’t fully set your own definition is if you offer health insurance to full-time employees. If you offer health insurance to your employees, then you need to use the Affordable Care Act’s definition of full- and part-time employees.

According to the ACA:

  • A full-time employee works an average of at least 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month for more than 120 days in a row.
  • A part-time employee works an average of less than 30 hours per week or less than 130 hours per month for more than 120 days in a row.

The only other official federal definition of part-time and full-time employees comes from the Bureau of State Labor Statistics. Their definition is not a hard-and fast rule, but more a general guideline for reporting out labor statistics. According to that agency:

  • A full-time employee works 35 hours or more per week.
  • A part-time employee works 1-34 hours per week.

Below are even more on the difference between a full-time and part-time employees, broken down by different contexts, like health insurance and taxes. To help stay compliant, you can use a time tracking software to keep records of hours worked by each employee.

ContextFull-Time EmployeePart-Time EmployeeWhy It’s Important
Employee BenefitsReceives full range of benefitsCan receive none, some, or all benefits, but it’s entirely up to the employer*Benefits cost money but attract higher-quality employees. Employers need to walk the line between the two
Affordable Care ACTWorks an average of at least 30 hours per week for more than 120 days in a yearWork an average of less than 30 hours per weekEmployers with 50 or more full-time and full-time equivalent (FTE) workers (when added together) are required to provide health insurance coverage to employees
Employee HandbookDetermined by employerDetermined by employerBy defining the difference between a part-time and full-time employee in your employee handbook, you can protect yourself from potential lawsuits
IRS TaxesN/AN/AWhether an employee is full or part time, employers still need to withhold income and FICA taxes
Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)N/AN/ALeaves the definition of full and part time up to employers, but states that the FLSA still applies
Bureau of Labor StatisticsWorks 35 hours or more per weekWorks 1 to 34 hours per weekOnly used for reporting purposes by the US government

*This is not the case however if there’s a state law that requires an employer to provide certain benefits. For example, in Hawaii, if an employee works at least 20 hours a week an employer needs to provide certain benefits under the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Law. For this reason, be sure to check your state’s Department of Labor website.

Can I make one employee full-time and another part-time if they do the same work?

Yes, you can make one employee full-time and another part-time even if they do the same work. However, doing so is risky as it can open your business up to potential discrimination lawsuits. Unless you have a solid reason, such as a request from the employee that’s documented with their signature, it might be best to avoid this practice.

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