‘Voluntary’ training time: To pay or not?

December 20, 2011
in Employment Law

Do you offer extra off-duty training for employees that, while technically voluntary, is strongly recommended?

If training participants are hourly employees, chances are you will have to pay them for this time.

Simply calling the training “voluntary” isn’t good enough if employees believe they would suffer adverse consequences for skipping the sessions.

Recent case: Several dealers at an Illinois casino sued, saying they had not been paid for time spent in training sessions learning new games of chance. The training sessions were held outside normal working hours.

The casino argued that the Fair Labor Standards Act required hourly workers to be paid for training time only if it was mandatory. It also claimed that it didn’t have to pay for training that taught employees new skills, even if the training was mandatory.

The casino claimed these training ­sessions were recommended, but not required. Plus, learning new games was acquiring a new skill, not improving on an old one.

The employees argued that the company essentially required the training because it criticized anyone who dropped a course and figured those training absences into the employee’s performance reviews.

The court sided with the employees, saying the case could go forward as a class action. Now the em­­ployees will get a chance to prove that training was mandatory and related to their jobs. (Nehmelman, et al., v. Penn National Gaming, No. 11-C-23, ND IL, 2011)

Final note: On-site college classes are an example of training that typically does not have to be paid because it prepares employees for different jobs. That’s true even if the classes benefit the employer.

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