The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employers pay employees for any time spent working. Does training count as work? Generally, if the training program is intended to improve the employee’s job skills, the employer must pay for the employee’s time in the training. There are some instances, though, where the employer is not on the hook.
An employer does not have to pay an employee for his or her time in training if all of the following four criteria are met:
- Attendance is outside of the employee’s regular work hours;
- Attendance is voluntary;
- The course, lecture, or meeting is not directly related to the employee’s job; and
- The employee does not perform any productive work during such attendance.
Put another way, an employer must pay for training time if any of the following are true: (1) the training is during the employee’s regular work hours; (2) the employer requires the training; (3) the training is directly related to the employee’s job; or (4) the employee performs any work during the training. The first and last factors are fairly straightforward, but employers often trip up on the other factors.
The Attendance Must Be Voluntary
The employer must pay the employee for his or her time in training if the training is not completely voluntary. If the employer suggests to the employee that failure to attend the training might affect his or her working conditions or job security, the training is not voluntary. The employer should not give the employee reason to believe that there will be any consequence at work if the employee skips the training.
The fact that an employee’s attendance at the training might lead to a pay increase or promotion in the future does not make the training “involuntary.” The question is whether the employee’s current employment status will be affected.
The Training Must Not Be Directly Related to the Employee’s Current Job
The employer must pay the employee’s time if the training is directly related to the employee’s job. Training is directly related to the employee’s job if it is designed to make the employee handle his job more effectively. Conversely, training is not directly related to the employee’s job if the training is designed to prepare her for a different job, such as a promotion or transfer.
What if an employee is working on a degree? If an employee voluntarily—on her own initiative—attends a school or college after hours, the time is not compensable even if the class is related to her job and will likely improve her performance. For example, if a company’s bookkeeper decided, on her own, to take accounting classes, the time would not be compensable, even though the accounting classes are related to her job and will likely improve her job performance. In contrast, if her employer told her to take the classes or suggested they would help her at work, the time would be compensable because the attendance would not be considered voluntary.
Importantly, employers should consult an attorney in assessing whether they need to pay their employees for time spent in training. Remember, the FLSA is harder than it looks!