The fine line between full-time and part-time employment

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- The wife of one of the firefighters killed in June in the Yarnell Hill Fire is speaking out against the city of Prescott.  

At issue is why the city is not extending benefits to her and other survivors. Those benefits include pension and health care and are usually extended to permanent, full-time employees.

So, exactly what is the fine line between part-time and full-time employees? The answer really depends on who you talk to because you'll get different answers on this question.

That's because the state of Arizona does not have a law that clearly defines the difference between full- and part-time employment.

When it comes to Andrew Ashcraft, one of the 19 firefighters killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire, his personnel file contains paperwork indicating he was hired as a part-time, temporary employee. The documents were signed by Ashcraft during his employment and indicate he is not entitled to certain benefits. However, Ashcraft's wife maintains her husband worked more than 40 hours a week regularly.

So, 3 On Your Side spoke with Dawn Valdivia, a Phoenix attorney with the firm Quarles & Brady. She specializes in labor and employment issues.

Valdivia said this is really an interesting case that might have to be settled in a court of law because each side has a good argument about why full-time benefits should or should not be extended.

"It's not a slam dunk," Valdivia told 3 On Your Side. "It's a fact that will play in the city's favor that he acknowledged that he was part time and it was explained to him. But, it's not a slam dunk. You have to look at all the circumstances and what the policies say."

Most people assume you have to work 40 hours a week to be considered full time. However, that's not the case. The so-called 40-hour rule usually applies to overtime pay and that anything over 40 hours will pay overtime.

You can actually be considered full time and receive benefits by working as little as 32 hours a week. The decision, though, is usually up to your employer and how your employer decides to classify you.