What Is an Employee Work Schedule?

Definition & Examples of Employee Work Schedules

Woman working on schedule on a computer
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An employee work schedule includes the days and times that an employee is scheduled to be on the job. Depending on the organization and the position, an employee’s work schedule may be a traditional, 40-hour-per-week, Monday-through-Friday schedule, or it could vary on a daily, weekly, or seasonal basis.

What Is an Employee Work Schedule?

A work schedule is the time an employee is expected to be on the job and working. In many cases, this will be determined by the employer and will be a set number of days and hours per week. Work schedules are not regulated by the Department of Labor.

How Employee Schedules Work

When an employer is hiring to fill an open position, the organization will determine the work schedule for the job.


Many organizations assign a schedule to their employees.

The schedule may be a set schedule with predetermined hours, in which case the employee knows exactly when they will be working each week.

Other organizations may have a flexible scheduling policy. With these employers, how employees are scheduled is determined by company policy. Flexible schedules allow employees to vary their arrival and departure and sometimes even choose the days that they work.

The organization may assign scheduled hours, the employee may be able to sign up for open shifts, or the employee may be able to set their own schedule.

The process for scheduling can be done the old-fashioned way, where a company manually determines the work schedule for its employees either on paper or by using a computer spreadsheet or calendar. Larger employers use scheduling software and apps to set staff schedules. 

Types of Employee Work Schedules

The following are examples of some of the different types of work schedules that employers use.

The “9-to-5” Work Schedule

The "9-to-5" schedule is the most common work schedule, requiring employees to work standard business hours: Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, some jobs may differ slightly from these hours. For example, some “9-to-5” jobs are actually "8-to-4" jobs. Or Tuesday through Saturday, instead of Monday through Friday. But overall, a typical 9-to-5 job includes eight hours of work a day, five days a week.

The variations in a work schedule are a function of the type of job and company. A restaurant hostess might have to work from 4 p.m. to midnight, for example, or a security guard might have to work overnight.

Shift Work Schedule

Shift work schedules happen when a company divides the day into shifts and assigns employees to work set periods of time. Sometimes these shifts vary day to day or week to week (these are known as rotating schedules), while other times an employee is hired to work a specific shift (these are known as fixed schedules).

There are also modified shift schedules, in which companies do not run 24/7 but instead open early and close late. Employees take shifts throughout the day to cover these hours. For example, someone might have a shift from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., while another person might have a shift from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Shift work is particularly common in medicine, where many doctors and nurses work on a rotating shift schedule. Other careers that typically have shift schedules include law enforcement, security, military, transportation, and retail. Shift schedules might involve alternating day and night shifts, working four days on one shift, and then having three days off before switching to a different shift; working four twelve-hour shifts a week; or some other combination.

Flexible Work Schedule

Other work schedules are flexible. For example, a company might allow employees to come in any time they want as long as they complete eight hours of work every day.


Flexible schedules allow employees to vary their arrival and departure and sometimes even choose the days that they work.

Other companies have slightly stricter, but still flexible, schedules. For example, an organization might let employees arrive anytime between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and leave any time between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. They might also be allowed to take a day off during the workweek as long as they come in on a weekend day.

Part-Time and Full-Time Schedules

A standard definition of a full-time employee is someone who works a 40-hour week, but there is no official, legal guideline. Similarly, there is no legal guideline for the number of hours worked by part-time employees in a week. It's simply defined as someone who works fewer hours per week than a full-time employee at the same company.


A common difference between full- and part-time employees is their schedules: full-time employees often have a set schedule, which does not vary from week to week.

Often, full-time employees do not have to clock in or clock out. While this can also be the case for part-time employees, a part-time employee’s schedule often varies greatly based on seasonality, the business of the company, and other factors.

Another common difference is that full-time employees are more likely to receive benefits, such as health insurance, paid vacation time, and sick time. These are often not given to part-time employees.

Finally, most full-time employees are considered exempt, which means they are not required to be paid overtime. Most part-time employees are considered nonexempt, which means they receive overtime pay for any additional work after 40 hours of work in a week.

Requirements for Employee Work Schedules

While employers have a great deal of leeway in setting the work schedules for their employees, some restrictions do apply.

Federal Law

There aren't federal legal requirements regarding scheduling and what hours an employee can be scheduled to work, other than the child labor law requirements which limit the work hours for minors who are under age 18.

State and Local Laws

State and local governments may have legislation that governs work schedules. For example, New York City retail companies with over 20 employees are not allowed to have employees work on an “on-call” basis. They must give you your written work schedule at least 72 hours before the start of the schedule. Additional regulations include posting the schedule at your workplace, including dates, shift start and end times, and location(s) of all shifts in the work schedule.


The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires non-exempt workers to receive overtime pay for time worked over 40 hours. In addition, there is federal and state legislation that sets limits on the amount of overtime some employees can work.

Key Takeaways

  • An employee work schedule is the predetermined days and times they are expected to be on the job.
  • Your work schedule will vary depending on the type of job, organization, and industry you are working in.
  • If you’re seeking employment, learn as much as you can about the work schedule during the hiring process so you know what to expect if you get a job offer.
  • There may be legal guidelines in your location that determine how and when organizations can schedule employees.
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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "Work Hours." Accessed Aug. 11, 2020.

  2. NYC.gov. "You Have a Right to a Predicatable Work Schedule." Accessed Aug. 11, 2020.

  3. U.S. Department of Labor. "Overtime Pay." Accessed Aug. 11, 2020.

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