Managing Your Practice

Full-time, part-time, FTE: Know the differences


The wholesale shuffling of employees triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has raised many questions about the differences between full-time, part-time, and full-time equivalent employees, and how employment laws apply to them. While rules vary from state to state, some generalizations can be made.

Dr. Joseph S. Eastern, a dermatologist in Belleville, N.J.

Dr. Joseph S. Eastern

Even the definitions of full-time and part-time vary. For instance, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), full time means working at least 30 hours per week. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), it is 40 hours.

Full-time equivalent (FTE) is a concept designed to document a part-time workforce in terms of full-time employment, by taking the total hours worked by all part-time employees and dividing by the full-time schedule. Of course, the ACA and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) calculate that number differently: The ACA requires you to total all the hours worked by part-time employees per month, and divide by 120. For the PPP, you divide the total part-time hours per week by 40, and round to the nearest tenth. (You can also use a simplified method that assigns a 1.0 for employees who work 40 hours or more per week and 0.5 for those who work fewer; whichever method you choose, you must apply it consistently on all PPP forms.)

FTEs are important for the purposes of the ACA because employers with 50 or more full-timers plus FTEs must offer health coverage to their full-timers and dependents. But most private practitioners need an accurate FTE total to deal with the PPP: If staffing levels weren’t maintained after you received a PPP loan, your loan forgiveness amount may be reduced. Staffing levels are determined by comparing the average number of full-timers plus FTEs during the “covered period” to either the period from Feb. 15 through June 30, 2019, or Jan. 1 through Feb. 28, 2020.

The PPP aside, FTEs have created confusion over when an employee is entitled to overtime pay. Under federal law, overtime is due whenever an employee works more than 40 hours per week; up to 40 hours, the regular wage is paid. (There are exemptions, and a few states use a daily number.) For example, if a part-timer receiving $900 per week for a 30-hour workweek works more than 30 hours, the hours from 30 to 40 would be compensated at their normal wage of $30 per hour ($900 ÷ 30). If the employee worked more than 40 hours, you would pay overtime (in this case $45 per hour, $30 x 1.5) for the hours in excess of 40.

To address a few other employment questions that I am frequently asked:

Under the FFCRA, you must provide both full- and part-time employees with emergency paid sick leave (EPSL) if they’re unable to work from your office or their home because of illness attributable to COVID-19, quarantine, or caring for a sick family member or child whose school is closed. Full-time employees are entitled to up to 80 hours of EPSL, and part-timers an average of what they work every 2 weeks. Some states have their own laws independent from the FFCRA. Check your state or local laws.

  • Some states require you to provide meal and rest breaks to both full- and part-time employees. In California, for example, employers must provide a 30-minute meal break after no more than 5 hours of work, unless the total workday is less than 6 hours and both employers and employees consent to waive breaks. California also requires rest breaks after every 4 hours worked. Check the laws in your state.
  • You must include part-time employees in a 401(k) retirement plan if they work at least 1,000 hours in a year, which is about 20 hours per week. That rule is changing in 2021 to 500 hours for employees older than 21. There are state-run retirement programs in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, and Oregon, among other states. Check your state law for details.
  • If you offer paid vacations to full-time employees, you do not have to do the same for part-timers. (In fact, there is no requirement in most states to offer vacation time at all.) My office does offer it to part-time employees on a pro rata basis, as do many others in my area. Again, check your state law.

As always, consult with your attorney if it’s not clear which rules apply in your specific situation.

Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters, and is a longtime monthly columnist for Dermatology News. He has no relevant disclosures related to the topic of this column. Write to him at

Next Article: