Updated July 8, 2020:

How Many Hours Is Considered Full Time?

How many hours is considered full time is a question that plagues many workers if they feel like they're being unfairly worked by their employer; many employees may think there must be a law surrounding how much they can work in a week. In truth, there is no legal definition of full-time employment; this depends on your employer and company policy. The only exception is that which falls under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for health coverage purposes.

In general, your company sets a specific number of hours for your work schedule. If the company is following best practices, this will be in the employee handbook, which may specify 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, or may simply specify required hours per week.

In general, employers tend to regard full-time employment as anywhere between 30 and 50 hours per week, with 40 hours being the standard. Those companies that have 50-hour work weeks usually apply it to salaried (exempt) employees only.

In the case of a startup, however, you may work 80 or more hours per week — you'll put in however many hours you have to in order to get things done. There may not be a standardized schedule or a set number of hours per week expected of employees, and informal staff expectations can greatly vary from the technical minimum hours for full-time classification.

Determining Full-Time Hours: The Interview

If you're going through an interview process and the interviewer has not clarified what your work schedule will be, you should never be afraid to ask what the expectations are of employees in terms of weekly work schedule and lifestyle balance. While you may be justifiably concerned about asking such questions at an interview, certainly ask the question when a job offer is made and before you accept it.

Since there are no laws regulating what constitutes full-time employment in terms of compensation and benefits, it's vital to get this information up front. This will protect you in the future. Even the Fair Labor Standards Act doesn't prescribe legal guidelines regarding full-time employment.

IRS and the Affordable Care Act

The IRS and the ACA, or Obamacare, both prescribe guidelines for full-time employment. According to the IRS, an employee is considered full-time if they:

  • Work 130 hours in a month -OR-
  • Average a minimum of 30 hours per week

The ACA has the same designation — employees who work over 30 hours a week are considered full-time.

Employers can choose any 3- to 12-month period during which an employee averages 30 hours a week or more to assign them full-time status for these purposes. Once designated full-time, an employer must maintain the employee's status as such for a minimum of six months.

The Standard Workweek

In the United States, the "standard workweek" is generally considered to be 40 hours, with employees working five days a week, for eight hours per day. Some employers consider 37.5 hours to be full time, giving 30-minute unpaid lunch breaks each day, while others give an hour and consider 35 hours to be full-time.

However, many businesses may require longer shifts, which can extend the regular workweek. Some of these businesses may include:

  • Restaurants
  • Hotels
  • Casinos

Another popular modification is the 4/10 workweek, wherein employees work four 10-hour days.

Certain industries, like trucking and health care, limit the maximum hours per week that a staff member can work. This is to avoid accidents resulting from exhaustion.

An Example of Full-Time Hours: Texas

Some states may set regulations on full-time hours. As an example, Texas defines anyone who works 32 hours a week as a full-time worker if that employee's schedule is comparable to other workers in the same company or other workers in the area who are designated as full-time. As such, if you work 32 hours per week in Texas, you're legally considered full-time.

This is important because courts tend to favor whatever law is more favorable to the employee when making rulings. That means that, while Texas law is different from federal law, if an employment conflict based on hours goes before courts, the more advantageous state law would be considered valid.

This also applies to minimum wage; if a state sets minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage, employers must abide by state law.

Schedule Changes and Corporate Regulations

Federal employment law allows an employer to change the schedule of an employee without giving any notice or without obtaining the employee's consent. The only exception to this is for employees who are under 16 years old.

Because of these confusing regulations regarding full-time hours, many companies are beginning to set policies about handling schedule changes to avoid complaints and grievances. Usually, as soon as an employee begins working fewer hours than the employer designates as full time, they are considered part-time, which by the U.S. Department of Labor constitutes working up to 34 hours per week.

The DOL, however, doesn't differentiate between full- and part-time status.

Why Classification Matters

Even though laws are loose and nebulous, misclassification of workers can cause many legal problems for employers. This particularly arises in terms of eligibility for benefits. Companies that offer things like paid-time off, health care, and pension must be careful to be consistent in how they dole out these benefits to avoid accusations of discrimination or unfair labor practices. Employers who deliberately misclassify workers can be subject to many thousands of dollars in penalties and fines, which can include back wages and employment taxes and can be levied by both the IRS and the DOL.

If you need help with determining how many hours is considered full time, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.