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June 14, 2011
Employee Training, Education: When Should Employers Pay?

Employee training and education opportunities can be confusing when it comes to who pays the bill. Our legal experts have fielded several questions surrounding this area of employment. Here are a few recent questions and answers.

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Q: We pay tuition for employee training that enhances their capabilities and performance. We require such training. But our policy says that if someone voluntarily leaves the company within the first 12 months after training, he or she must reimburse us the entire cost. After that, the cost is pro-rated through 30 months of employment. Beyond that, employees owe nothing for the training. Is our policy OK?

A: Such a policy is valid in your state, but enforcing repayments can be a problem. You can’t deduct the amount from the final paycheck, and if the former employee doesn’t pay it back, you may have to sue to recover it, which can be expensive. We recommend you ask a local employment attorney to review your policy.

Q: If an employee voluntarily attends a certification course on a weekend (not scheduled work time), do we have to pay overtime if the person goes over 40 hours for that week, including the course?

A: As the first answer said, this course would not be compensable if it was taken voluntarily and outside work hours. One big question would be whether the training was directly related to the employee’s present job. Another would be whether the employer led the employee to believe that the training was critical to his or her job.

Q: As an employer, we require certain skill-based certifications for many jobs. We pay for the classes and testing time. But many classes require study time outside of class, and some ask for a nominal ($5-$6) fee for the issuance of certification cards. Is it an issue that we don’t pay for the required study time or the cards for our nonexempt employees—who number in the hundreds?

A: According to several opinion letters issued by the Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division, analyzing whether the outside study time is compensable is very fact-specific. The Division has said that if an employer does not mandate at-home study, it may not be compensable. However, if the employer requires the training and the training requires at-home study, then it probably is compensable.

As for the fee for certification cards, most states prohibit such an out-of-pocket expense for an employee who is required to be certified in order to perform his or her job. If, by contrast, the certification could be used to work for other employers, the fee can’t be deducted from paychecks but is not reimbursable by the employer.

Q: Do we have to pay employees who voluntarily attend training that is related to their jobs?

A: It’s likely you must pay wages, especially if the training conference takes place during work hours. Their time is not compensable if attendance is voluntary, it is outside regular work hours, the material is not job related, and the employees do no productive work while they attend. If employees are trained to do their current jobs more effectively, they are usually paid. If, however, they voluntarily take courses that go beyond their job duties (such as a stenographer studying bookkeeping), they need not be compensated.

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