What Are the Maximum Hours to Work Part Time?

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In January 2011, 8.4 million people worked as part-time employees because they could not find full-time work. Especially during times of high unemployment, part-time work might be the only option for many people. Federal labor law does not define an hour threshold that distinguishes part-time workers from full-time workers in the terms and privileges of employment.


The Fair Labor Standards Act, the federal employment law, makes no distinction between full-time workers and part-time workers based on hours. Employers have the right to classify employees as full-time or part-time based on any criteria. The FLSA takes this stance because its provisions apply to all workers and do not depend on an official designation as full-time or part-time.


By law, employers pay overtime at a rate of 1.5 times employees' normal pay for labor exceeding 40 hours during the course of a week. The Fair Labor Standards Act specifically cites 40 hours as the overtime threshold. A part-time employee whose workweek is 20 hours, and who puts in 25 hours one week, would not have a right to five hours of overtime compensation. The employee's status as a part-time employee is irrelevant; the only factor is total hours worked.


About 20 states have break laws requiring meal periods for employees during the workday. Most of these states tie break provisions to hours on the job, meaning only employees who work a full day or close to it have the right to take breaks. Again, time worked, not a designation as a part-time employee, determines whether a worker must have the opportunity to take a meal break. If an employee works eight hours per day, three days a week, she would have the right to take a meal break on her work days, in accordance with state laws.


According to the Internal Revenue Service, some employers assume employees are independent contractors based on hours worked or status as a part-time employee. In truth, those issues do not determine a worker's status as an employee or contractor. Questions relating to behavioral control help determine a worker's status. Examples of these questions are whether the employer can manage when and where the employee performs work, and what tools or equipment the employee uses. An independent contractor could end up putting in more hours on the job a week than a part-time employee.