While no formal legal definition exists for full-time employment, an employee who works full-time as defined by their employer conventionally puts in a number of hours per week that approaches or reaches the legal maximum of 40 hours weekly.
A wage-earning employee in a non-exempt industry who exceeds 40 hours of time worked in a given workweek is entitled to overtime pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that overtime pay, which must be at least time-and-a-half, or 150 percent of the employee’s regular hourly wage, be paid for any time worked in excess of 40 hours per workweek.
An employee is entitled to be paid for all time during which he is required to remain on the employer’s premises and/or engage in duties for the employer. This includes short rest breaks (typically no longer than 20 minutes), time spent waiting at or near the workplace, and travel time in some circumstances. During meal breaks, the employee must be relieved of all work duties for the time to be considered “off the clock” unpaid time.
Employers commonly outline their company’s definition of full-time employment in the employee handbook or manual provided to all their workers. Often this includes a set number of hours that an employee must work to be considered a full-time worker. This definition does not, however, guarantee that an employee will receive that many hours every week.
If an employer defines full-time work with a set number of hours and requires that employees work at least that many hours to receive full-time benefits such as health insurance, those benefits may be lost if the employee’s hours are cut. In such a situation, the employee may be eligible to apply for COBRA insurance to compensate for the loss. The employee may also be entitled to apply for unemployment in response to a significant reduction of hours.