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How many hours do you need to work to get benefits?

How many hours do you need to work to get benefits?

Whether you're an employer looking into offering benefits or a part-time employee looking for the best benefits program available to you, you may be wondering, “How many hours can a part-time employee work?”

While it seems like a straightforward question, the answer is surprisingly complex. There's no precise definition of a part-time employee. The same employee working 35 hours may be full-time at one job and part-time at another.

On the other hand, there are federal, state, and local regulations governing how many hours an employee can work without particular benefits. Temporary employees are largely exempt from any regulations on benefits, and there’s no real definition of temporary employee either.

So, how many hours can a part-time employee work? Here's the surprisingly complicated answer to this standard question. 

What is a Part-Time Employee?

A part-time employee is generally considered someone working 30 hours and below. But this distinction varies by employer. Exactly what is defined as part-time is specified by the contract between employer and employee.

What benefits are part-time employees eligible for?

Part-time employees may be entitled to the same benefits as employees with full-time status, but typically they are offered a reduced package compared to their full-time counterparts. Some benefits are required by federal or state law. Here are a few of the most common benefits offered to part-time employees:

  • Unemployment
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Overtime pay
  • Retirement savings plans
  • Family leave
  • Medical leave
  • Health insurance
  • Paid vacation
  • Fringe benefits like education plans, flexible schedules, free meals, etc.

How Many Hours can a Part-Time Employee Work Without Benefits?

What is the 30-hour rule for ACA?

Eligible employees need to work more than 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month qualify for enrollment in federally-mandated employee benefits. If hours fluctuate, you'll need to track them carefully.

What is the 1,000 hour rule?

Eligibility requirements like the 1,000 hour rule ensure workers are receiving the benefits they’re entitled to. According to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), employees who work a thousand hours or more in a year are entitled to the same kind of standard retirement plans offered to all of the employees at a given company.

Your state may have additional regulations to these federal laws. The question of whether you'll be able to attract quality part-time employees without offering any benefits is another question entirely. For instance, at large employers like Starbucks, employees become benefits eligible once they receive 240 hours over three consecutive months. This benefits eligibility includes healthcare benefits such as medical, dental and vision, short long-term disability, life insurance, paid parental leave, and much more. Starbucks even offers a college achievement plan if you don't have a bachelor's degree.

Not all businesses offer the kinds of part-time benefits that Starbucks does. However, businesses that want to be competitive and attract the best talent to part-time positions typically must offer a robust benefits package.

Are part-time employees entitled to benefits?

While part-time employees typically don't get as many benefits as full-time employees, there are laws governing how part-time employees are compensated and what they are entitled to. Laws regarding disability leave, sick leave, and health insurance can vary by state.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires all employers nationwide with more than 50 full-time or full-time equivalent employees to offer health insurance if employees work at least 30 hours a week or 130 hours per month.

Businesses are required to offer part-time employees a standard retirement plan to all employees if they've worked at least 1,000 hours over the course of a year, according to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Executive order 13706 extends particular benefits to contractors with the federal government regarding paid sick leave.

What kinds of careers typically employ part-time employees?

We usually think about part-time employees as being in jobs in the restaurant industry, childcare, particularly in-home child care, and support jobs like cleaning and gardening. However, more and more jobs are becoming part-time as the workforce and careers change.

Contract work is becoming increasingly common. More and more businesses are striving to keep employees part-time so as to increase the flexibility of their talent pool and avoid paying benefits. In today's workforce, anyone, from client services, to nursing staff, to professional white-collar work, might be part-time.

How many hours can a part-time employee work without benefits if they have a temporary position?

Temporary workers typically aren’t eligible for benefits provided to full or part-time employees, even if they work 30 or 40 hours a week. Temporary work is something of a loophole in benefits regulations since the period of time in which an employee can remain “temporary” isn’t standard.

This is true even of businesses that provide good benefits to part-time and full-time employees, like Starbucks. Federal regulations on how businesses must provide benefits, such as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) don't apply to temporary workers.

Many state benefits packages, such as Florida laws regarding health insurance, exempt temporary employees. The temporary classification can pose a problem for workers who may be stuck in limbo, ineligible for health benefits they would otherwise be entitled to. Temporary workers supplied and paid by a staffing agency may be categorized as temporary regardless of how long they work for a particular company.

For businesses with high turnover and low-skill work, having temporary employees, whether provided by an agency or employed directly by the company, can be a tool to reduce the health benefits that need to be paid. While OSHA protects temporary workers from workplace safety violations in the same way as permanent workers, temporary workers aren’t entitled to the same benefits as full or part-time workers.

How many hours can a part-time employee work? It depends.

The number of hours a part-time employee can work without being entitled to a benefit plan including things like health insurance and retirement depends on the number of hours worked, the type of contract between employer and employee, local, state and federal regulations, whether the job is government or civilian, and whether the work is temporary. If you're not sure what kind of benefits your business needs to offer, take these variables into consideration as you begin your research.

Learn More About Employee Benefits: 

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