If you are a part-time, hourly worker, understanding how many hours you can work in a given week before the company is legally required to pay you an overtime rate may be difficult. Typically, overtime pay is equal to an additional one-half of your hourly rate on top of the regular hourly rate, or, colloquially, “time and a half.” But when is a company required to pay this to a part-time worker, and how many hours a week are considered part-time? What is the number of hours you have to work each week to be considered a full-time employee and therefore eligible for benefits provided to full-time workers?
Definition of Part-Time Worker
Under federal labor laws and the laws of most states, a full-time worker is often someone who regularly works 40 hours a week, but there is no set definition under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, so this can vary from company to company and can be more or less. Typically, anyone working less than 35 hours a week on a regular basis is considered to be a part-time worker. Typically, however, it is expected that a part-time worker works at about 20 hours a week.
Overtime at Work
If you are an hourly and not a salaried employee, you may be considered to be nonexempt, meaning you are entitled to overtime pay if you work over a certain number of hours a week under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. That standard is 40 hours, regardless of how the company defines a full-time employee. For example, if the company employs full-time workers who typically work 37.5 hours in a week, but you work only 20 hours a week, you would still have to work more than 40 hours in a given week to be eligible for pay at the overtime rate of your currently hourly rate, plus half that rate again, per hour, or time and a half.
There are exceptions, however. Some jobs and industries may require unexpected long hours, such as emergency workers like firefighters or police officers, nurses and doctors. These workers frequently work very long shifts but do not qualify for an overtime rate due to the nature of the job. It may surprise you to learn how many types of workers the government does not consider eligible for overtime pay, including seasonal employees, farm workers, drivers, certain salespeople and computer professionals. This even includes children who get paid to work, delivering newspapers, for example, or acting in local plays, which can require very long hours with rehearsals and performances.
Obviously, if you are a contractor and not an employee, you will also not be paid overtime, no matter how many hours you work. The classification of your job is the main determining factor as to whether or not you will be eligible for overtime after you work 40 hours in a given week.
Read More: Employee Rights for Overtime Hours in the Workplace
Overtime at Work
While overtime is typically used to pay hourly workers, some salaried workers are also eligible for overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week. If your job is classified as exempt from overtime, it means you are not eligible for overtime pay no matter how many hours a week you work, even if you are paid on an hourly basis. If your job is classified as nonexempt, that means you are qualified to receive overtime pay if you work more than 40 hours in a given week. Understanding the difference between exempt and nonexempt can be complicated and is typically decided by the human resources personnel at each company in accordance with federal guidelines. It not only has to do with your job title, but the job duties you perform, and is decided in accordance with U.S. Department of Labor guidelines.
In addition to the DOL laws, many states have specific wage and hourly rate laws that also must be followed by employers in that state. A state may, for example, require overtime to be paid at a higher rate than the federal guidelines of time and a half. It’s important to note that whatever rate is higher is the one you are entitled to. For example, if the federal overtime rate is time and a half, but the state dictates the overtime rate to be double time, you are entitled to the higher rate if you work enough hours to qualify for overtime.
If you are a nonexempt employee, it is important to understand the rates in your state and to track your time carefully to ensure that your employer is compensating you fairly for the overtime you work. Not paying you accordingly can be a violation of labor laws. That being said, some companies offer alternative benefits to compensate employees for overtime beyond normal monetary compensation, such as perks or benefits packages. There are also certain, specific exceptions to this rule for some first responders and other emergency workers.
What Constitutes Full Time?
Unfortunately, there is no universal standard in the United States as to what qualifies as full-time work. Generally speaking, however, most jobs where you work less than 30 hours a week are considered to be part time, and any jobs that require you to work 30 hours or more per week are typically considered to be full time. But this can vary from company to company.
While the U.S. Department of Labor does not have a standard, it is important to note that the Affordable Care Act does – if you work 30 hours or more per week or 130 hours per month, the ACA considers you to be a full-time employee. That can positively or negatively affect your ability to obtain health care or other benefits your employer provides to full-time workers, so it is important to understand the distinction as it relates to your job. Don’t be afraid to ask for an explanation if you feel the job is not classified correctly. Your company should tell you at the time you are hired if you are exempt or nonexempt and be able to explain how that classification was decided.
Classifying employees is not simple, either. It can depend on many factors, such as the size of the company. Smaller companies may not be required to give benefits to full-time workers, even if they work 40 hours or more per week. There are also salary thresholds under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act that can affect your job classification.
Misclassifying employees is a serious infraction, and companies can get into a lot of trouble if they do so, including incurring fines and other penalties, even if the classification was unintentional. FLSA overtime claims help employees recover compensation they were due for working overtime but who did not receive proper compensation at the time it was due, whether due to job misclassification, accidental oversight, negligence, delays or shifting hours falsely from one week to another, which is against the law. This includes off-the-clock work, such as when employees come in early, stay late or perform set-up duties. If you have questions about correctly classifying employees or about your eligibility for overtime pay, contact an attorney experienced in labor laws and wage cases to learn more.
Danielle Smyth is a writer and content marketer from upstate New York. She holds a Master of Science in Publishing from Pace University. Her experience includes years of work in the insurance, workers compensation, disability, and background investigation fields. In addition to being the content writer and social media manager for Alliance Worldwide Investigative Group, she has written on legal topics for a number of other clients. She owns her own content marketing agency, Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing (www.wordsmythcontent.com) and enjoys writing legal articles and blogs for clients in related industries.