Most employers consider a well-trained workforce to be their greatest asset.  In order to maintain employee skills, companies may provide opportunities for individuals to attend training programs. Similarly, they may ask employees to attend company meetings in order to share information about the organization’s “state of the union”.

Because training programs are for the development of the individual or because we’ve made a meeting “voluntary”, the company sometimes presumes they do not have to compensate employees for time spent attending these training programs or meetings.

The U. S. Department of Labor (DOL) has very specific guidelines and says that, typically, training must be considered hours worked and is compensable (including for overtime pay purposes) unless each of four criteria is met.  Specifically, the DOL regulations state:

Attendance at lectures, meetings, training programs and similar activities need not be counted as working time if the following four criteria are met:

(a) Attendance is outside of the employee's regular working hours;

(b) Attendance is in fact voluntary;

(c) The course, lecture, or meeting is not directly related to the employee's job; and

(d) The employee does not perform any productive work during such attendance.

Employers should review the clarifications the DOL has made with respect to the concept of voluntary attendance as well as work not directly related to the employee’s job.

The DOL regulations clarify voluntary attendance as follows:

Attendance is not voluntary, of course, if it is required by the employer. It is not voluntary in fact if the employee is given to understand or led to believe that his present working conditions or the continuance of his employment would be adversely affected by nonattendance.

It is very important that supervisors and managers understand that if a meeting or training program is voluntary, they are not permitted to put pressure on employees to attend…especially if it causes an employee to believe he will be disciplined or otherwise adversely affected because of nonattendance.

In its regulations, the DOL makes it clear that training in a new skill to prepare for a new or different job is NOT related to the employee’s job.  Specifically, the regulations state:

The training is directly related to the employee's job if it is designed to make the employee handle his job more effectively as distinguished from training him for another job, or to a new or additional skill. For example, a stenographer who is given a course in stenography is engaged in an activity to make her a better stenographer. Time spent in such a course given by the employer or under his auspices is hours worked. However, if the stenographer takes a course in bookkeeping, it may not be directly related to her job. Thus, the time she spends voluntarily in taking such a bookkeeping course, outside of regular working hours, need not be counted as working time. Where a training course is instituted for the bona fide purpose of preparing for advancement through upgrading the employee to a higher skill, and is not intended to make the employee more efficient in his present job, the training is not considered directly related to the employee's job even though the course incidentally improves his skill in doing his regular work.

The Fair Labor Standards Act can be complicated and confusing.  Consult with an employment law attorney if you have any questions about whether or not you’re paying your employees appropriately for all hours worked.

Contributed by Christine Crews, SPHR, is Vice President of Human Resource Services for the Employers Association Forum, Inc. (EAF). EAF is a non-profit corporate membership-based association dedicated to serving the business and HR communities with world-class HR tools, hotlines & legal compliance, news & trends, surveys & economic data, benefits & insurance, risk management, training & consulting, and leadership & organizational development. www.eafinc.org or [email protected]

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