What Does Working Per Diem Mean?

by Kristine Tucker Google

Working per diem is a temporary work assignment and might include part-time or full-time hours. Per diem means "per day" or "daily," so a per diem worker is hired on a daily basis, as needed. In most cases, a per diem employee is paid more than the standard hourly wage for the same position to compensate for not getting benefits and for agreeing to non-guaranteed hours. Per diem employees generally work intermittent schedules and may be hired to work for days, weeks or months, depending on the employer's workforce needs.


If you're hired as a per diem worker, your work schedule is based on an employer's daily workforce demands. You might get hired to work one shift for one day, or you might get hired to work several weeks or months in a row. In most cases, per diem workers don't get to choose their schedules or work hours and are hired to work only as productivity demands. Sometimes, per diem workers are hired to fill in for permanent employees who are temporarily on leave. They might also be hired to work less-appealing weekend hours.


Per diem workers are paid an hourly wage and might receive higher wages than those who work similar permanent positions. For example, the California State University system pays per diem employees a base hourly rate plus 29 percent, according to the system's human resources department. The additional 29 percent compensates for the unpredictability of work hours, the fluctuations in scheduling and the lack of benefits. Most per diem workers don't receive health insurance benefits, retirement plans, paid leaves of absence, professional development reimbursements, vacation pay or holiday pay, unless the company chooses to offer those benefits. For example, CSU allows per diem workers to participate in its part-time employees' retirement plan.

Minimum Wage and Overtime

Per diem workers are considered non-exempt employees. According to the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, per diem workers must receive at least minimum wage. They must also receive overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week; overtime pay is one and one-half times the regular rate of pay. As a result, employers usually try to schedule per diem employees to work less than 40 hours a week.

"At Will" Status

If you're hired to work per diem, you're only committing to work on a day-to-day basis, so you can quit at will, without submitting a two-week notice or other documentation. As a result, the employer can't punish you for quitting on short notice, even if it jeopardizes workforce needs. The employer is still legally responsible to pay you for the hours you worked. That also means that the employer can cease using your services at will, without providing a reason or explanation. Since some states enforce "at will" policies regarding the hiring and firing of employees of any status, your per diem status might not make a difference either way.

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