Determining how many hours is full time can be important for both employees and employers to help determine their respective rights and responsibilities at work. The following guide looks at how to establish how many hours is full time when compared with part time workers, and how this impacts workers’ rights and entitlements.
What qualifies as full time versus part time work?
There is no set formula for deciding what amounts to full time or part time work, with no legal minimum or maximum number of hours before someone is considered to be either a full time or part time worker. Instead, the law sets out a somewhat loose definition of what constitutes a full or part time worker based on the custom and practice where they work.
Specifically, the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 provides that a worker is a full time worker if:
“…s/he is paid wholly or in part by reference to the time s/he works and, having regard to the custom and practice of the employer in relation to workers employed by the worker’s employer under the same type of contract, is identifiable as a full-time worker”.
The 2000 Regulations go on to provide that a worker is a part time worker if:
“…if s/he is paid wholly or in part by reference to the time s/he works and, having regard to the custom and practice of the employer in relation to workers employed by the worker’s employer under the same type of contract, is not identifiable as a full-time worker”.
In practice this typically means that a full time worker is someone who works a standard number of contracted hours for their particular type of work based on the normal working practices of the company or organisation in question for a full time worker.
Even though many people consider anything between 35 to 40 hours to be a full time working week, the number of hours a person is expected to work as a full time worker can vary depending on their employer. In some cases, it is less, for other employers, it can be more.
There is no legally defined number of hours for full time employment, where individual employers can decide how many hours per week are to be considered full time. The hours that workers are expected to work will usually be set out in the company working hours policy and/or within individual contracts of employment.
It follows that a part time worker is someone who works fewer contracted hours than a full time worker for the type of work, and workplace, in question. This could be, for example, where someone works less than 35 hours per week.
What rights do full time workers have compared with part time workers?
Regardless of whether an individual works on a full time or part time basis, where two people are undertaking the same or similar work, under the same type of employment contract, with the same employer, each should not be treated less favourably than the other. The law, in fact, expressly protects part time workers from less favourable treatment than full time workers by reason of them working part time.
This could include treatment, for example, in relation to pay rates and bonuses, including sick pay, maternity, paternity and adoption leave and pay; holiday entitlement; training and career development; selection for promotion and transfer, selection for redundancy; opportunities for career breaks; as well as occupational pension opportunities and benefits.
This means that the contractual provisions of full time workers and their part time counterparts should be broadly the same – albeit in an equal proportion to the number of hours undertaken by a part time worker, applying the pro rata principle where appropriate.
When applying the pro rata principle to the contractual benefits received by part time workers (ie; in proportion to the hours worked), where a comparable full time worker receives pay or any other benefit, a part time worker should not receive less than the proportion of that pay or other benefit that the number of his or her weekly hours bears to the number of weekly hours of the full time worker doing the same or similar type of work.
An example of the pro rata principle could be where a full time worker gets a £500 Christmas bonus, where a part time worker working half the number of hours should get £250.
When comparing the rights of a part time worker against a full time worker, this must be a real rather than a hypothetical comparator, ie; someone employed by the same employer. However, where a full time worker has reduced their hours to part time, they can compare their new part time terms and conditions with their previous full time contractual rights.
Can treating part time workers less favourably ever be justified?
The right of a part time worker not to be treated less favourably than a full time worker only applies if the less favourable treatment is on the ground that the worker is a part time worker ‘and’ the treatment cannot be justified on objective grounds.
As such, there may be limited circumstances in which an employer can show good reason for not treating a part time worker in the same way as a full time worker. This means that the normal protection afforded to part time workers will not apply if the employer is able to show that the reason for the difference in treatment is necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, and that this is the most appropriate and proportionate way to meet a genuine business need.
An example of objective justification could be where a part time worker is excluded from complementary health-club membership because it has not been possible to pro rata this benefit, and the costs involved of providing free membership in full are disproportionate to the benefits that part timers are entitled to. This type of justification could also apply to the provision of health insurance cover. In either case, however, the employer should still consider any available alternative, such as asking part time workers to make a contribution to the cost.
Specifically in respect of overtime, the law provides that a part time worker paid at a lower rate for overtime worked will not be regarded as being treated less favourably then any comparable full time worker in circumstances where they are required to work the same number of hours before being entitled to be paid at an enhanced rate. This means that part time workers may not get overtime pay until they have worked over the normal hours of a full time worker as established by custom and practice in that workplace.
How can full or part time status be decided?
When a person is hired for a job role they will usually be advised of their employment status and eligibility for contractual benefits based on whether they are going to be working either full time or part time. What is classed as full time work will be a matter for the individual employer to decide based on the custom and practice of their company or organisation.
If someone is classed as working part time and they are treated less favourably because of this, they have a statutory right, on request, to a written statement of reasons for the treatment from their employer. The employer must respond to such a request within 21 days.
If the part time worker is not satisfied that the reason given was objectively justified, they may be able to take a case to an employment tribunal.
What is the maximum limit a worker can work per week?
By law a worker cannot work more than an average of 48 hours per week, unless either they agree to work more hours, known as ‘opting out’ of the weekly limit, or they do a job not covered by the Working Time Regulations 1998. There are also different rules on working hours for the under-18s, who cannot work more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week.
When calculating the average weekly working hours of an individual over 18, you must take the total hours worked, normally over a reference period of 17 weeks, and divide this total by the number of weeks. This means that someone can work more than 48 hours one week, provided the average time over 17 weeks is under 48 hours a week.
There are certain activities that will count as work within this calculation. A working week can include, for example, paid or unpaid overtime requested by the employer; time spent on call within the workplace or where work-related activities are required; working lunches such as a business lunch; time spent travelling if travel is part of the job; as well as travel between home and work at the start and end of the working day if there is no fixed place of work.
However, working hours will not usually include unpaid overtime that the worker has volunteered for; time spent on call away from the workplace where the worker is not required to do anything work-related; lunch or other breaks where no work is done; paid or unpaid holiday; travel that is outside of normal working hours and not requested by the employer; or travel to and from work if the worker has a fixed place of work.
Most workers can opt out of the 48-hour weekly limit by signing a written agreement, known as an ‘opt-out agreement’, although they do not have to agree to this and they must not be treated differently, or subjected to any detriment, if they refuse to do so. They can also subsequently change their mind about opting out, providing notice to their employer to cancel the agreement. This notice period is typically 7 days but can be anything up to 3 months.
Even where a worker has not opted out of the weekly limit, it is still possible to legally work more than 48 hours in any one week on an ad hoc basis, as long as their hours are then reduced accordingly to even out their weekly average. In the absence of any contractual provision covering this situation, agreement must be sought from the worker first.
DavidsonMorris’ employment law experts work with employers to support with workforce management issues, including determining employee rights and entitlements based on the nature and terms of their employment. Varying contractual terms, such as changing working hours, can present legal risks and if not handled correctly, can impact workforce morale and performance. Working closely with our HR specialists, we provide a holistic approach to managing and effecting changes. For advice on your employees’ rights and entitlements, or making changes to your employees’ contracts, speak to us.
How many hours is full time? FAQs
How many hours a day is a full time job?
What amounts to a full time job will depend how many hours are regarded as full time in relation to the custom and practice of an employer for a particular type of work. This is usually calculated on a weekly basis and could be, for example, anything between 30 to 40 hours per week, although a full time worker will usually work 35 hours or more per week.
Is 28 hours full time?
There is no legal minimum when deciding what is working full time hours, where it is up to an individual employer to decide what is classed as a full or part time contract. However, typically, a full time worker in the UK will work 35 hours or more each week.
Is 30 hours a week full time UK?
It is not typical for a 30 hour week to be classed as full time in the UK, although much will depend on what is standard custom and practice for the particular type of work carried out in the workplace in question. Typically, in the UK, a 30 hour week will be classed as part time.
Is 50 hours a week too much?
Working 50 hours per week on average would usually be classed as too much, where the legal weekly limit is 48 hours. However, it is possible for an employee to opt out of this weekly limit, or for an employer to ask an employee to occasionally work more than 48 hours, as long as their hours are later reduced to even out their average weekly hours within the legal limit over the applicable reference period.
Last updated: 9 September 2020