Employees FAQ 21

Are municipal employers required to compensate employees for time spent in training programs?

It depends. The Fair Labor Standard Act regulations address when an employee must be compensated for time spent in training programs, lectures, labor-management committee meetings and safety meetings (see 29 CFR sec. 785.27). In order for a training activity to not be counted as compensable working time, all of the following four criteria must be met:

  1. attendance must occur outside the employeeís regular work hours;
  2. attendance must be voluntary. Attendance is not considered voluntary if it is required by the employer or if the employee believes that his or her working conditions or the continuance of employment would be adversely affected by non-attendance (29 CFR sec. 785.28; FOH sec. 31b17);
  3. the employee must do no productive work while attending the training; and
  4. the program, lecture or meeting should not be directly related to the employeeís job.

If a training course is undertaken for the purpose of ìpreparing for advancement through upgrading the employee to a higher skill, and is not intended to make the employee more efficient in his present job,î the training is not directly relayed to the workerís job, even if the training ìincidentally improves his skill in doing his regular workî (29 CFR sec. 785.29).

However, there is an exception to the requirement that an employer must pay an employee for time spent in training that is directly related to his or her job. The regulations designate as a ìspecial situationî one in which an employer establishes ìfor the benefit of his employees a program of instruction which corresponds to courses offered by bona fide institutions of learningî (29 CFR sec. 785.31). The rules state that an employee who voluntarily attends such a course outside of his or her work hours would not be considered to be working during that time, ìeven if [the courses] are directly related to his job, or paid for by the employer.î

FLSA regulations state that attending an independent trade school or pursuing a correspondence course on a workerís own initiative outside regular working hours is not compensable work, even if it is job-related (29 CFR sec. 785.30). Taking public-school courses or courses in a government-sponsored on-the-job training program also is considered noncompensable time.

Time spent in labor management conferences related solely to internal union affairs is not compensable. However, if the purpose of the meeting is to handle problems affecting day-to-day business operations, including the settlement of grievances or disputes over an existing union contract, an employee must be paid for time spent during regular working hours or for time when the worker is required to be on the employerís premises. As a matter of enforcement policy, however, time spent in adjusting union grievances will not be counted as working time if this is spelled out in a collective bargaining agreement or exists through custom and practice (29 CFR sec. 785.42). The compensability of time spent during regular working hours in negotiating a new union contract is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Time spent by employees in fire or disaster drills during regular hours is compensable (FOH sec. 31b15). Voluntary attendance at government-sponsored safety meetings after hours is not considered working time, but after-hours training in required safety programs is compensable.

For more detailed information on this subject, see Fair Labor Standards Act Handbook for States, Local Governments and Schools, para. 460 (Thompson Publishing).