What Is Considered Full Time in NC? The Answer May Surprise You

When considering what constitutes full-time work in North Carolina, it’s important to understand that this is an at-will employment state. What does that mean? According to the NC Department of Labor, employment at-will means employers can treat employees pretty much however they want. They can assign demeaning tasks and fire you for virtually any reason (or no reason at all) as long as it is not for an impermissible, retaliatory, or discriminatory reason. Basically, employers have most of the leverage and power.

And that power largely extends to determining what qualifies as full-time hours.

How Many Hours Is Full Time in NC?

Under North Carolina law, your employer gets to decide how many hours qualifies you as a full-time employee. As long as the hours are laid out and applied consistently, the definition of full-time is almost entirely at your employer’s discretion.

Did You Know? While many people think of full-time as 40 hours a week, things are not defined that way under NC law. Full-time in NC is generally whatever your employer says it is.

It can be an odd concept to wrap your brain around. How many hours per day do you need to work before you’re considered full time? Your employer decides. How many hours per week before you earn the designation of full-time employee? Your employer decides. What additional responsibilities do you need to fulfill to be considered a full-time employee? Your employer decides.

Tip: While employers get to decide the definition of full time, the number “40” does carry some weight. Under federal and state law, non-exempt workers must be paid overtime for hours worked over 40 in a span of seven days.

Does the 2020 NC Overtime Law Change Help Me or Hurt Me?

It helps you if you are an overworked but underpaid salaried employee. Under the 2020 NC overtime law change, being a salaried employee does not necessarily exclude you from overtime pay requirements. If you are a salaried employee who worked in excess of 40 hours for a workweek, you are entitled to overtime pay unless you are exempt.

To be exempt, a salaried employee — typically executives, supervisors, administrators, and certain professionals — must be guaranteed a salary of at least $684 per workweek and either have real managerial duties, make policy decisions, or be part of certain professions. If you are salaried, do not have those duties, make less than that per week, and are required to work overtime, you are likely entitled to time and a half for all hours over 40.

What About for Insurance Under the Affordable Care Act?

If a company has 50 or more full time employees, they are required under federal law to provide certain health insurance benefits to each of their full time employees. For these purposes, federal law is paramount, and you are considered full time at 30 hours a week or more. Employers who misclassify employees in order to avoid providing benefits are subject to serious penalties. Outside of this consideration and a few others, state employment law sets the rules.

Do you feel you are being taken advantage of, or do you need help interpreting the complicated legalese of your employment agreement? See if we can help with a free case evaluation.

Am I Entitled to Benefits as a Full-time Employee in North Carolina?

Under North Carolina law, working full time doesn’t entitle you to anything except what your employer says it entitles you to. For example, your employer does not need to provide a raise once you achieve full-time status. Remember that federal law imposes a mandate regarding health benefits specifically once you reach full-time under the rules of the Affordable Care Act (30+ hours).

Your employer may offer benefits to part-time employees, full-time employees, both, or neither, so long as it is all decided in advance, applies to all people who are categorized that way equally, and the employer abides by whatever was decided. Now, most commonly, you may see employers going the traditional route of a 40-hour schedule and benefits for full-time employees. But this would be an “incentive” by the employer to lure in the best candidates, not a requirement under North Carolina law.

How Many Hours Is Part Time in NC?

An employer can set up nearly any part-time vs. full-time structure they like, so long as they clearly communicate and abide by this policy. Indeed, the distinction has such little meaning under North Carolina law that your employer can switch you from full to part time at will — without informing you — so long as you keep everything you earned until the switch. If you don’t like it, the theory goes, you are free to quit at will.

If you are non-exempt, there is no minimum number of hours for which you must be paid and no minimum number of hours for which you must be scheduled.

If a part-time non-exempt employee comes in or is called in for a shift but then is sent home, the employer is only responsible for the time the employee was doing work or waiting to do work. If you are paid hourly and are non-exempt, you’re not entitled to any payment for the time and inconvenience of travel, even if it’s for a short shift, or infrequent shift, or unexpected shift.

In fact, even if you travel a long way on your employer’s request and show up for work, but your employer meets you at the door to the business and tells you to go back home, you are not entitled to anything. However, if your employer provides minimum payments or hours as part of written company policy or your specific employment agreement, then they are bound by those terms. Additionally, if you are salaried and categorized as exempt, your employer cannot dock your pay for not having work for you to do, or for sending you home. If this is happening to you, you may be misclassified as exempt.

What Happens if a Part-time Employee Works Full-time Hours?

Part time in North Carolina does not mean there is a cap on hours. In addition, your employer can:

  • Adjust your hours at will, even after they’re scheduled
  • Make you work days, nights, or weekends as a condition of employment
  • Have you work an unlimited number of days in a row, as long as they pay you overtime
  • Assign you a shift of however many hours they choose, and as many of that type of shift as they choose
  • Call you in on your day off
  • Make you work overtime with no advance notice
  • Assign you a shift that interferes with a critical event in your personal life

Am I Powerless at Work?

Outside of any employment contract, you have two main wage protections under federal and state law. These protections apply to both salaried and hourly employees:

  • You are entitled to at least minimum wage. The minimum wage is currently $7.25.
  • You are entitled to overtime (time and a half) for hours worked over 40 in the week if you are a non-exempt employee.
Even tipped employees must be paid minimum wage, but their employer may combine their hourly wage with tips to reach this number. If you have questions, contact an employment law lawyer.

What Happens to ACA-Mandated Medical Benefits When a Full Time Employee Is Not Working Full Time Hours?

What happens if an employee is classified as full-time but only works part-time hours for several weeks? Do they risk losing their benefits?

Here’s how it works: Employees are measured by their employers periodically to determine their average hours. Following the measurement period is an enrollment period. The enrollment stage is followed by a stability period, where changes can only be made to coverage in extreme circumstances.

If you are determined to be full-time under the ACA during a particular measurement period, you can register for benefits. If you enroll in a coverage plan, this plan will apply for the entire stability period (often a calendar year) even if you drop to part-time during that time. If, at the next measurement period, your overall hours for the period do not average at least 30 per week, then your employer may drop you from coverage for the next stability period.

What Is the Minimum Number of Hours for Full Time? The Maximum?

There is no minimum or maximum number of hours for full-time employees under NC labor laws. If your employer says you are full time, you are full time. Your employment agreement or company policies may have rules specific to your workplace or position.

Employer Leverage Is Not Unlimited

While at-will employment can leave a North Carolina worker vulnerable, you still have rights. If your employer offers male employees full-time benefits but keeps all the women at part time with no benefits, for example, you can still fight back. And you should.

If you have questions about your particular situation, request a free case evaluation by calling 1-866-900-7078 or chatting with someone 24/7/365. An attorney can help you level the playing field.

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