Is Training “Work”?

Most employers are happy to have employees who want to learn new things, keep up with technological change and generally stay current with their skills. But if the employees in question are overtime-eligible, we need to consider whether the time they spend in the classroom or online course is compensable.

people in classroom

Many companies offer tuition reimbursement programs. Some even offer bonuses or other awards to employees who complete certain training or obtain certificates or degrees. But beyond that, you may actually need to pay some of your workers for time they spend in training or classes — including potential overtime.

Fortunately, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides four relatively simple criteria you can use to determine whether you need to pay hourly and non-exempt salaried employees for the time they spend in training. Answer “yes” to any one of these questions and the time almost certainly will be considered work time for which the employees must be paid:

  • Does the training take place during normal working hours? If you’ve allowed them to be away from their regular job attending a seminar, class or training session during the normal work day, it’s paid time. Sessions scheduled outside of normal work hours may be unpaid — if they meet the remaining criteria.
  • Do you require employees to attend? If attendance is mandatory, it’s paid time. If the employee is seeking training on their own initiative, the time could potentially be unpaid, assuming the other criteria are met.
  • Is the subject of the training directly related to the employee’s current job? If the training program is designed to help the employee more effectively handle their current job responsibilities, it’s probably paid time. If the purpose of the training is general self-development or to prepare them for a future job, it may be unpaid time as long as it doesn’t violate any of the other criteria.
  • Does the employee perform any productive work while attending the training or class? Some classes include “hands-on” practical training. If the employee performs any work from which the employer benefits (say, for instance, assembling products for sale or creating spreadsheets to be used in the normal course of work) the course becomes paid time. If the hands-on practice involves more hypothetical work that won’t be used in any way by the employer, the time may be unpaid (assuming the course meets the other criteria).

Of course, the purpose of this is not to discourage you from sending your overtime-eligible employees to training or allowing them to take coursework! A well-trained workforce is a productive workforce. You just want to be aware of the applicable rules and make sure you pay your workers properly if any of their training time turns out to be compensable.

What are your company policies regarding employee training and continuing education?

Photo Credit: Robert Sanzalone

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