Have Full-Time Hours Changed Over Time?

Quick Navigation:

Most workers are familiar with the benefits that come with full-time jobs compared to part-time jobs, but what exactly is the difference between full time and part time? The definition has changed over time, as the workplace in general across America has changed in response to new demands from workers and employers alike. Learn how many hours per week is considered full time, and how that definition has changed over time.

What is a full-time job?

A full-time job is one in which the worker is expected to work a certain minimum number of hours as determined by their employer. There are general standards that many employers abide by, but full time could mean a variety of different things, depending on the employer’s standards. In fact, there is no legal definition of full time, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Instead, the focus of this act is preventing part-time workers from being discriminated against compared with their full-time counterparts.

Another important feature of a full-time job is the benefits that come with it. Full-time workers are usually entitled to benefits that part-time, temporary or flexible workers don’t enjoy. These benefits include annual paid time off and sick leave. Full-time workers are also typically the only ones eligible for company-sponsored health insurance.

How many hours per week is a full-time job?

Full-time positions generally consist of 40-hour workweeks of eight hours per day for five days. There are exceptions, however, as some jobs implement a four-day workweek in which the employee works 10 hours per day for four days. However, some companies have a range of hours that are considered full time. This range is usually between 32 and 40 hours per week.

It’s important to note that full-time hours vary widely across different companies and industries. Some companies consider 30 hours per week full time, while others demand closer to 50 hours per week. You won’t find legal limits for the maximum hours one can work per week, but companies generally try to keep full-time hours at around 40 per week just to retain employees who don’t feel overworked. Startup companies tend to have the least strict standards on full-time hours, expecting employees to work until the job is done. While this can be beneficial to the company, it often leads to employees working much longer than 40 hours per week.

How has full time changed over the years?

Working 40 hours per week has been the standard in the American workplace since 1938, the year the FLSA went into effect, but that has slowly been changing. This is largely based on the rise of salaried pay. When someone works for a salary, they get paid a certain amount per year, in contrast to an hourly worker, who gets paid by the hour. While salaried employees may still be entitled to overtime pay, there are certain positions that are exempt from the FLSA. That means you could be working 45 or 50 hours per week and receive the same pay as you would for working 40 hours per week.

If you get paid hourly, 40-hour work weeks are still quite common. Employers don’t want to pay overtime if they don’t have to, so they’ll often limit your hours to the standard 40. You may even find yourself working less than 40 hours some weeks, but you won’t get paid for the additional hours you normally work. Salaried workers, on the other hand, will get paid the same whether they work 30, 40 or 50 hours.

Legally speaking, full-time workers work as many hours as their employer considers to be full time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines full time as 35 hours or more worked per week, but that is not a legal standard; it’s only used for statistics. The Affordable Care Act defines full-time workers as those who work 30 hours per week. Most important is that the FLSA, which is the most legally binding authority, does not specify a definition of full time.

Related: Salary vs. Hourly Pay: What Are the Differences?

Full time vs. part time

A part-time employee is one who does not work the minimum full-time hours. This may seem obvious, but the specific meaning can change based on the employer. That’s why employers must explicitly state minimum full-time hours in their policy manual. Otherwise, an employer could be in legal trouble for not offering full-time benefits to workers incorrectly labeled as part time.

Benefits are the key factor motivating employers to hire part-time employees. When they hire a full-time employee, they must offer benefits like time off and health care, while they do not have to offer them to part-time employees. This is also why the number of part-time employees as a percentage of the workforce has increased over the past several decades. It’s always cheaper for an employer to hire a part-time hourly worker than a full-time salaried employee. This is especially true during periods of economic recession.

Part-time positions typically exist for specific job types rather than for individual employees. For example, a grocery store may offer both full-time and part-time cashier positions but only part-time bagger positions and only full-time customer service positions. Be sure to check whether the position you apply for is designated as full time or part time. While the number of hours can vary within each category, only full-time positions will be eligible for full benefits from the company.

Knowing the differences between full-time and part-time positions is essential for ensuring that you get the work experience you’re looking for when starting a new job. Keep in mind that the hours expected of each position can vary, though they tend to average around 40 for full-time jobs and 30 for part-time jobs. This has become a less common standard compared with decades past, but it’s still the most likely situation you’ll come across during a job search.

Related: 20 Part-Time Jobs That Pay Well