When you’re looking for work, there are a number of reasons you might not want to or be able to commit to working full-time hours. And if you want to have more stability than freelance or contract work usually brings, you’ll likely opt to look for a part-time job. Or you might be offered a part-time position and wonder if it’s worth taking. Virtually every industry hires part-time workers.
Here are some of the basic logistical questions you might want answers to before you pursue part-time work.
How Many Hours Is Part Time?
“For most companies, full-time employment is between 30-40 hours per week, while part-time is less than 30 hours each week,” says Samantha Reynolds, Communications Coordinator at Helpside, which has worked with thousands of businesses to advise them of legal requirements and best practices for hiring employees, both full-time and part-time. But because “there is no legal definition provided by the Department of Labor for full-time or part-time employment,” Reynolds says, each organization will generally set their own. In Muse career coach Jennifer Sukola’s experience, people with part time jobs typically work 15 to 29 hours a week. However, some employers will consider anyone working less than 40 hours a week a part-time employee.
For many office-based part-time jobs, employees will have a set schedule where they work the same hours every week, Reynolds says. However, these hours may vary by season (for example, if you work for an accounting firm, you can likely expect more hours during tax season) or based on certain company needs like large projects and events. Outside of office work, part-time employees may be more subject to fluctuating hours and shifts. Depending on the company and position, part-time employees might have some say and/or flexibility in setting their weekly schedules, which is ideal for workers with responsibilities outside of work such as school, caretaking duties, or another job.
Do Part-Time Jobs Have Benefits?
Much like the number of hours you’ll work in a part-time job, the benefits you’ll be eligible for will depend on where you work. Many companies choose to only offer benefits—such as dental insurance or a childcare allowance—to full-time employees. Others choose to offer some or all of their benefits to part-time workers as well. A few of the benefits commonly offered to part-time employees are paid holidays, life insurance, and paid time off (PTO), Reynolds says.
Though some individual states and cities have more worker-friendly benefits laws, there are a few legally protected benefits on the federal level that part-time workers anywhere in the country may be guaranteed depending on their exact situation:
Health Insurance When people in the U.S. talk about benefits, health insurance is usually top of mind. While some employers do offer health insurance to some or all part-time employees, many do not. However, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a., Obamacare, requires that any employer with more than 50 full-time employees must provide healthcare coverage to those who work more than 30 hours per week or 130 hours overall in a given calendar month—or they’ll need to pay a penalty. So even if your employer considers you a part-time employee because you work less than 40 hours a week, you may still be legally entitled to health insurance coverage. FMLA The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a U.S. law that requires employees be allowed to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave—without losing their jobs—for certain reasons: the employee (or their spouse) has given birth, the employee has adopted a child or taken a foster child into their home, the employee has to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or the employee themself has a serious health condition. If you’ve been employed by a company for at least one year, you’ve worked 1,250 hours in the 12 months preceding your leave (or about 25 hours a week), and your employer has more than 50 employees, you are legally allowed to take FMLA leave, even as a part-time employee, Reynolds says.
Overtime Pay Overtime pay—which must be at least one and a half times your usual pay rate—kicks in when you’ve worked more than 40 hours a week. All non-exempt part- and full-time workers are eligible for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in seven consecutive days. (Exempt employees are generally salaried executive, administrative, professional, computer, and outside sales professionals whose responsibilities meet certain requirements and who make more than $684 a week or $35,568 annually.) Though part-time workers generally won’t be working more than 40 hours a week, it can happen occasionally if there’s a busy season, for instance, or if they’re taking over a shift to cover for a colleague. Some states and cities have higher thresholds for the salaries of exempt employees and/or a set number of hours worked within a given day before overtime kicks in, so be sure to check your local employment laws.
What Kinds of Jobs Can Be Part Time?
While you might think that part-time jobs exist primarily in retail and food services, “Nearly every industry could have a need for part-time workers in an office setting,” as well, Reynolds says. Industries like landscaping, hospitality, and manufacturing often need seasonal administrative help. And early-stage startups often hire part-time employees in a range of roles when they’re not yet ready for full-time employees, either financially or workload-wise, Reynolds says.
Some part-time office jobs will have words like assistant, coordinator, or clerk in the title, Reynolds says. But part-time jobs can come with pretty much any title and you can search for any type of role with a part-time schedule. For example, some companies hire part-time project managers or software engineers. There are also many part-time office roles that are essentially filled through “job sharing,” where two part-time employees share the duties of one full-time job, Reynolds says. “For example, a medical office may have a morning receptionist and an afternoon receptionist.”
Why Would You Choose a Part-Time Job Over a Full-Time Job?
Part-time jobs have several advantages over full-time jobs and may be the better choice for certain people, situations, and lifestyles. For example, part-time work may offer:
More time outside of work, which is “attractive to employees who have obligations outside of work that take their attention,” such as parenting, going to school, or caring for other family members, Reynolds says.
A stable stream of income for someone who’s working in the gig economy or who has other professional pursuits, Sukola says. So for example, if your side hustle is bringing in some money, but it’s not enough to support you yet or it’s inconsistent, you might take a part-time job to supplement your income while you grow that business.
Extra income, which you may need if your full-time job isn’t paying enough to live on.
Experience in a new field for those entering the workforce or changing careers, Sukola says.
If you’re looking to work 15 or 20 or 28 hours a week rather than full-time, you can search for part-time roles on The Muse. As you do, make sure you’re clear on the expectations an employer has for the position up front, Reynolds says. How many hours will be expected? Will you have a say in your schedule? Will the company offer you benefits? Will the role always be part-time? If the job description doesn’t answer these questions, you can always ask in an interview.