Part-time vs. full-time: Exploring the differences

Understand the differences between part-time vs full-time

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As your company grows and evolves, understanding the differences between full-time and part-time employment becomes increasingly vital—it affects everything from compensation and benefits to team dynamics and legal compliance considerations.

Choosing whether to hire someone part-time or full-time ensures you create a work environment that's fair to everyone and inspires and motivates your team to do their best.

In this article, we’ll explore the advantages and potential drawbacks of part-time versus full-time employment structures, and why differentiating one from the other is key to developing your workforce to its fullest potential.

Not sure if you should bring on your next all-star as a contractor or employee? Wondering if you need to convert an existing contractor to full-time employment? Find out using our Contractor vs. Full-Time Analyzer.

What is considered part-time and full-time employment?

There's no singular, global definition for how many hours each week is considered full-time or part-time. For example, in the United States, there are varying definitions, which complicates the topic of full-time versus part-time employment law. The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that full-time employment consists of 35 hours or more per week, while the Internal Revenue Service considers employees full-time if they typically work at least 30 hours per week. 

Because the Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t specify what is full-time or what is part-time employment, employers in the U.S. have some discretion in distinguishing between the two according to what they deem appropriate. While full-time is typically 40 or more hours and part-time is 30 or less, there’s flexibility between these ranges.

Internationally, countries set their own criteria to distinguish between part-time versus full-time hours. Below are examples of how various nations define full-time work:

  • Australia: 38+ hours (regulated by the Fair Work Act 2009)
  • Brazil: 25–44 hours (regulated by the Brazilian Labor Code)
  • France: 35+ hours (regulated by the French Labor Code)
  • Germany: 36–40 hours (regulated by German labor laws and collective bargaining agreements)
  • Japan: 40+ hours (regulated by the Labor Standards Act)
  • South Africa: 45 hours (regulated by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act)
  • United Kingdom: 35+ hours (regulated by the Department for Work and Pensions)

Part-time vs. full-time employees: How do they differ? 

Grasping the distinction between part-time and full-time work requires understanding various factors, such as:

Working hours

Remember, the primary difference between full-time and part-time employment is the number of hours an employee typically works. Full-time employment usually entails working 35–40 hours or more weekly.

Insurance and benefits

Full-time employees typically receive a broader range of benefits, such as health insurance, paid vacation, holiday pay, or retirement plan matching programs. While companies may choose to offer benefits to part-time employees, it’s often at the employer’s discretion (there’s no federally mandated requirement to provide benefits to part-timers). 

However, some U.S. states require employers to provide certain benefits to part-time employees. For example, in Illinois, the Paid Leave For All Workers Act guarantees all employees earn one hour’s compensation for every 40 hours worked (for up to 40 hours altogether).

Labor law protection

Generally, full-time employees enjoy enhanced safeguards under labor laws. In the United States, two important pieces of legislation—the Affordable Care Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act—outline specific employer obligations toward part-time and full-time workers.

  • Affordable Care Act: According to this law, larger companies with 50 or more full-time employees who work at least 35 hours weekly must provide their staff with health insurance.
  • Fair Labor Standards Act: This law requires organizations to distinguish between exempt and nonexempt staff. Nonexempt employees, who typically have more fluctuating or lower earnings than exempt employees, are eligible for additional compensation—at a rate of time and a half—for hours worked beyond 40 in a week.

Part-time vs. full-time: Pros and cons

If you're unsure whether your next hire should be full-time or part-time, consider the advantages and disadvantages from an employer's and an employee's viewpoints.

For employers

Hiring part-timers provides flexibility for adapting to business growth or fluctuating workloads, allowing for the possibility of transitioning them to full-time roles as needed. Moreover, businesses often employ part-time staff for seasonal peaks, such as holiday surges for e-commerce or harvest time for agriculture.

However, too many part-time employees can make it challenging to maintain a cohesive team culture and get the very best out of each individual team member. You may also find increased turnover among part-timers, who might be more inclined to pursue other employment options.

Employing full-timers helps create a more cohesive environment for executing long-term projects, growing a sustainable business, and building a loyal team of high-performers. But bear in mind that the costs will be higher (as you have to pay full-time salaries and all the associated benefits), and growing the team may be a slower process than it would be if you used part-time or contract staff.

For employees

Part-time employees often benefit from greater flexibility, which often allows them to maintain a healthier work-life balance. It also serves as an excellent gateway into the workforce for students, young parents re-entering the job market, seniors, or individuals transitioning into a new career. However, part-time positions usually offer fewer benefits, if any, alongside reduced job security.

Conversely, full-time employment typically offers more stability, opportunities for career advancement, and potentially higher earnings. Employees in full-time roles often enjoy comprehensive benefits packages. However, the job might demand more time, which may pose challenges when balancing professional responsibilities and personal matters.

Why differentiating part-time from full-time is important

For employers, misclassifying workers as part-time or full-time not only risks legal complications and financial repercussions, but may also affect team morale. For example, employees who believe their classification is inaccurate, or feel deprived of opportunities or benefits, might demonstrate this with a decline in performance. 

That’s why implementing a fair and accurate classification system is critical. It sets transparent expectations for employees regarding work schedules, responsibilities, and benefits. This approach fosters a workplace atmosphere of openness and trust, where every team member feels valued and correctly positioned to contribute their best.

A solution for global employment success

Whether you’re looking to fill part-time or full-time roles, expanding and diversifying your team is a vital endeavor, especially with the opportunity to recruit globally. It adds an exciting—but at times complex—layer of potential to your growth strategy.

That’s why many companies enlist the help of Oyster. Our global employment platform helps businesses hire, pay, manage, and scale a thriving distributed workforce across borders.

Oyster facilitates the expansion of your team globally, removing the complexity of establishing legal entities in each country. We offer in-depth local insights, covering salary benchmarks, benefits, and labor market trends to support your business's growth and ensure full compliance with international standards.

Discover how the Oyster platform streamlines global employment, payroll, benefits, team management, and more.

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, engage, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world—with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.

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