Part-Time / Full-Time Status

  1. Texas and federal laws leave it up to an employer to define what constitutes full-time and part-time status within a company and to determine the specific schedule of hours.

  2. Most companies define full-time employees as those who are regularly scheduled for a set number of hours each week (40, 37.5, 45, or similar amount), and part-time status is for anyone who is regularly scheduled to work less than that amount of time each week.

  3. A common reason for differentiating between part-time and full-time employees is to distinguish the set of employees who receive company benefits from those who are not eligible for such benefits, or to supply a way of distinguishing between two sets of benefits for two classes of employees. It is legal to have one set of benefits, or none at all, for part-time employees, and another set of benefits for full-time employees, as long as there is equal employment opportunity within the company.

  4. Certain benefits have specific rules, however:

    1. Pension or retirement benefits - if a company offers such benefits, the federal law known as ERISA provides that an employee who works at least 1,000 hours in a twelve-month period must be given the chance to elect participation in the pension or retirement plan (this is known informally as the "thousand-hour rule" - see 29 U.S.C. § 1052)

    2. Health insurance benefits - if an employer has a health insurance plan, an "eligible employee" is anyone who usually works at least 30 hours per week. The 30-hour rule is worded so that the focus is on what the employee's usual work schedule is. Here is the exact language from the statute governing that issue (Insurance Code § 1501.002(3) at "'Eligible employee' means an employee who works on a full-time basis and who usually works at least 30 hours a week. The term includes a sole proprietor, a partner, and an independent contractor, if the individual is included as an employee under a health benefit plan of a small or large employer. The term does not include an employee who: (A) works on a part-time, temporary, seasonal, or substitute basis; ... ." Similar language is found in the federal statute for the Affordable Care Act.

  5. Having part-time/full-time definitions that are insufficiently specific can lead to a problem of interpretation, if the workplace gets busy for more than a week or two at a time, and employees who are hired as part-timers have to work 40 or more hours several weeks in a row. Such employees might begin to think of themselves as full-time employees and expect full-time benefits. For that reason, some employers write the definitions in a manner similar to this:

    "Full-time employees are those who are regularly assigned to work at least 40 hours each week. Part-time employees are those who are regularly assigned to work less than full-time. While part-time employees may occasionally work 40 or more hours in a particular workweek, or in a series of workweeks, that by itself will not change their regular schedule. However, the company reserves the right to change the regular schedules of employees at any time. In such a case, the company will give affected employees as much advance notice as possible of their new regular schedules and will advise employees of the effect of such changes on their eligibility for company benefits."

For information on unemployment claim issues relating to part-time / full-time status, click here.

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