Table of contents
  1. How many hours a week is considered full-time?
  2. Can employees work more than full-time hours?
  3. What is the difference between full-time and part-time?
  4. Do you need to hire full-time employees?
  5. Conclusion

A full-time employee is an individual contracted to work the maximum weekly hours at an organization.

There’s no universal standard as to what the maximum hours should be, as it can be governed by law in some countries or locally agreed in others. In most cases, it’s predetermined by each organization and stated within your contract of employment. It is important to ensure you clarify what the full-time working hours are at your organization so the expectations are clear on both sides.

How many hours a week is considered full-time?

Historically, full-time hours were widely thought to equate to a 40-hour week,­ working eight hours a day, five days a week, in what has been commonly referred to as a “nine-to-five.”

The United States Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 states that employees must not be employed for more than 40 hours per week without receiving overtime pay, but there is a lack of global consensus on what number of hours constitutes full-time. 

Organizations take different approaches to working time. For example, some will account for rest periods ranging from 20 minutes to one hour in their full-time schedule, and others will not. An organization operating on a 40-hour week might offer a one-hour daily paid break, so the actual working hours for a full-timer would be 35 per week. Elsewhere you might see 37.5 hours per week being considered full-time, where a 30-minute break is accounted for. 

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics considers a full-time employee to be anyone who works over 35 hours per week. However, both the Affordable Care Act (enacted into US law in 2010) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) consider a full-time employee to be anyone who works over 30 hours per week on average.  

Can employees work more than full-time hours?

Some industries or professions may require employees to exceed the maximum hours, or opportunities may arise for them to take on additional hours from time to time.

Hours worked over the contracted maximum are considered overtime. Depending on the law in your country and your company policy, excess hours can be compensated by additional wages or time off in lieu of the additional hours worked. Executives are generally not afforded the same legal benefits as other employees, as they are thought to have more autonomy over their work schedule.

In the US, under FLSA, full-time employees can be exempt or non-exempt from overtime pay. Non-exempt employees are entitled to additional pay (time-and-a-half) for hours worked in excess of 40 per week. Part-time employees will, more often than not, be considered non-exempt.

Exempt employees can work over 40 hours per week without earning additional wages and are paid the same amount each payday, irrespective of the hours worked in that period. These workers are typically salaried, knowledge-based workers, who tend to work more than their contracted hours to “get the job done” or as a show of dedication to the company. Whilst in many organizations overworking is increasingly discouraged in favor of promoting work-life balance, there is no financial or legal incentive for employers to police this. 

What is the difference between full-time and part-time?

Part-time hours are any contracted hours that are less than the standard full-time hours. Typically, a part-time employee would work fewer than 32 hours per week, but there are many different iterations of a part-time working schedule.

In some countries, laws are in place to protect the rights of part-time workers and prevent unfair treatment in comparison with their full-time counterparts. In the US, the Part-Time Workers Bill of Rights aims to create parity between full and part-time workers. Under the Bill employers cannot treat part-time staff less favorably than their full-time equivalents, but employers can still prorate their entitlements based on the hours worked. 

Apart from the number of hours worked, one of the main differences is the entitlement to workplace benefits such as sick pay, health and dental insurance, and pension funding. Full-timers, where eligible, will be entitled to the full benefit in question, whereas part-timers will receive a proportion based on hours worked. For example, paid vacation days for a full-time employee might be 28 days per year, whereas a part-time employee working 50% of the time may be entitled to 14 days per year, i.e., 50% of the entitlement.

In the US, if benefits cannot be easily prorated, the defense of “objective justification” can be used to permit disparities that might otherwise be seen as discrimination. 

Do you need to hire full-time employees?

The term “nine-to-five” has become synonymous with having an office job, regardless of the hours worked. In many industries, it has been standard to recruit on full-time contracts. If an employee wanted to work less than full-time hours, they would need to request it based on their personal circumstances. The organization would then consider the request and either grant or deny it.

In recent years, however, more employers have become conscious of work-life balance, as well as the disproportionate number of women pushed out of the job market due to a lack of part-time work opportunities. As a result, consideration is being given to a number of factors when deciding whether certain jobs need to be full-time.


Factors to weigh up include whether the role can be performed in a shorter time or requires a consistent presence throughout the working week. Is relationship-building with internal and/or external stakeholders a key component? If so, the importance of having a single point of contact can justify requiring the post to be full-time. 

On the other hand, the output and role requirements might not necessitate having an employee on the clock 35-40 hours per week, and therefore you would be wasting money paying someone for excess hours that are not needed to fulfill the role. 

It may be considered more cost-effective to have a small number of full-time employees rather than multiple part-time employees. The payroll costs will be less, alongside the amount spent on training, development, and equipment, among other things. 

Legal obligations

It’s important to note that the number of post-holders, either full or part-time, may impact the legal obligations employers have to fulfill. In the US, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), employers with 50 full-time employees or 50 full-time equivalents in the preceding year would be considered an Applicable Large Employer. These large employers would be required to automatically enroll at least 95% of their employees in a health benefit plan providing at least the minimum essential coverage stipulated by the ACA. 

Furthermore, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers with more than 50 employees are also required to offer up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for employees who worked a minimum of 1,250 hours (24 hours per week) in the preceding year. During this time employers must continue to maintain the employees’ health benefits—thus, the associated costs continue.


Bear in mind that there are options beyond the usual part-time permanent post, such as temporary or seasonal workers. This is suitable when the work may be increased over a set period of time and only requires extra staff for that season. 

Term-time working is another arrangement where work is carried out over set periods of time and can be either full-time or part-time. It allows employees to work in accordance with the school term and to take care of childcare duties during the holidays.


Studies have shown that working long hours is detrimental for employees’ health and reduced working hours can improve employees’ well-being. 

Some types of work have a high potential for burnout or risk of physical or psychological harm. Part-time contracts of fewer hours could help to mitigate those risks by reducing exposure to the contributing factors.

Four-day working weeks are becoming more prevalent in recent years. Early adopters, such as New Zealand and Spain, where hundreds of organizations trialed shorter working weeks, reported benefits such as reduced stress, increased productivity, and improved work-life balance.


A full-time employee is one who works the maximum standard hours their organization has set. The exact number of hours can differ from organization to organization and across different geographic locations. 

A full-time employee may work in excess of what is considered full-time in some circumstances to meet the needs of the organization. There are laws in place in some countries to prevent employees from overworking, but it is down to the organization to instill a culture whereby employees are not expected to work excessive hours. If they do, they should be compensated accordingly. 

Working full-time does not need to be the default position. Before advertising, you should give consideration to the needs of the post, the output required, and the breadth of candidates you would like the post to attract.