Employers often ask me when it is necessary to pay employees for training time.  The question has obvious effects on a company’s bottom line, as well as its relationship with its employees.  In addition, if such training time is compensable, and if it brings the employee’s total work hours over forty (40) per week, it very well could be considered overtime.  If it is, the employee will be due one-and-a-half their regular hourly rate for that time, placing an even greater financial burden on the employer.

            The United States Department of Labor (USDOL) has created a “safe harbor” list of criteria in determining whether training is considered “hours worked” and thus compensable.   In general, training need not be counted as working time only if all of the following four criteria are met:

  1. Attendance is outside of the employee’s regular working hours.
  2. Attendance is voluntary.
  3. The course is not directly related to the employee’s job.
  4. The employee does not perform any productive work during such attendance. 

            If even one of the above criteria is not met, then the employee must likely be paid for the training time.  None of the criteria relate to the location of the training, so an employer cannot use that as a deciding factor in determining whether or not at-home training time should be paid.

            Most disputes about the compensability of training time arise under the second prong of the test – that is, whether a given training program is “voluntary.”  Generally, attendance at or participation in courses or other training will be considered voluntary when the employee’s classification or work conditions are not adversely affected by his/her decision not to participate.  For example, managers can suggest to their employees that they consider taking a training course without turning the training into compensable work time.  However, the managers must not expressly or implicitly that the employee’s present working conditions or continuance of employment will be adversely affected if he/she refuses to participate.

            Tomorrow, I’ll write about when it may be necessary to pay for pre-employment training.