Employment status affects three key aspects of your life on the job: schedule, pay and benefits. Full-time employees typically spend the most time at work; earn more than seasonal, temporary and part-time workers; and qualify for paid time off and other benefits. However, the criteria that determine full-time status vary according to company policy. According to the North Carolina Department of Labor, employers alone define the number of hours an employee must work to be considered full time. Federal legislation, however, may influence their definition.

Hours-Per-Week Standard

The common measurement for full-time status is the number of hours clocked per week. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics considers a full-time workweek to be at least 35 hours. The agency found that full-time workers in nonagricultural industries averaged 42.5 hours per week in 2014.

According to Work and Education surveys conducted by Gallup in 2013 and 2014, full-time respondents averaged 47 hours per week. Gallup found that only 42 percent of full-time U.S. workers keep a 40-hour schedule, and 8 percent work less than 40 hours. Full-time salaried workers in the sample averaged four hours more per week that their hourly colleagues who must adhere to clock restrictions.

Employers establish their criteria for full- versus part-time employment. They must publish the difference in their employee handbook to explain any paid time off benefits such as sick leave, holidays and vacation pay offered to full-timers. (Link: Introduction North Carolina)

Legislative Influence

Since the 1938 passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, business has used the 40-hour workweek as the yardstick for full-time employment. The 40-hour benchmark is important, as FLSA requires employers to pay a worker 1.5 times his hourly pay rate when that worker puts in more than 40 hours in one 168-hour period unless the worker is exempt. Exempt positions must meet three tests to qualify for the FLSA overtime exclusion:

  • Salary level of at least $23,600 per year
  • Base salary is a “guaranteed minimum”
  • Have executive, professional or administrative management duties

Using the 40-hour limit and designating full-time positions as exempt help employers control payroll cost.

According to HealthCare.gov, the Affordable Care Act instituted a new definition of full-time: 30 hours per week. Employers can set a 12-month measurement period to assess their workforce's full-time status under this 30-hour criteria. The law requires employers to offer health benefits to workers who average at least 30 hours a week during this assessment time but allows them to impose a 90-day wait period before coverage begins. Those who don't obey the law face penalties for each full-time employee.