Should We Have a 40 Hour Work Week?

The new Congress has taken aim at the definition of what constitutes a “full time” work week under Obamacare, but the debate raises a more basic question: what should be considered working “full time” in America today?

The House passed legislation today that would change the definition of full time employment under Obamacare from 30 hours back to 40. The bill has no chance whatsoever of passing (even if it gets through the Senate, the president has said he will veto it), so it really is just a political statement.

Under Obamacare, the law’s definition of full-time workers who must be offered employer-provided health insurance are those who work at least 30 hours per week. Critics say that companies are cutting workers’ hours to come in below the 30 hour threshold in order to cut costs which then has the unintended effect of reducing the available number of full time jobs, hence the stated purpose for the legislation that was just passed by the House.

Putting the politics of the situation aside for a moment, this got me thinking about a basic question raised by all of this: What should be considered working “full time?”

Even if it was done unintentionally, the definition of “full time employment” as written in the legislation is one that seems to be moving us towards a new standard. If the insurance guidelines for the entire country are based off of the assumption that when an individual works 30 hours in a week he is then considered to be a “full time employee,” one could logically conclude that this is considered to be the standard to use when defining full time employment as it relates to other situations that arise in the future.

When I was growing up, and for all of my adult life up to this point, it has always been drilled into me that working “full time” meant you worked a minimum of 40 hours per week, at least for the purposes of benefits and job classification.

I was curious what those of you who read think of this – what should the definition of “full time employment” be in America today? Should it be 40 hours, or 30, or something else? And who should be responsible for deciding this standard? The government? Individual workers? Companies providing the jobs? Would having a shorter work week be good or bad, and what might the consequences or benefits be from changing to something different?

It’s an interesting discussion and one that seems to have been put into the spotlight by the debate in Congress, even if done so inadvertently.

The survey is now closed, but you can read the follow up article with a compilation of the survey feedback and your comments.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.