Learning & Development

Is ‘Paid Volunteer Training Time’ an Oxymoron?

In today’s Advisor, we receive guidance from one of BLR’s experts on when volunteer training should or should not be paid.

Here’s the question: Do you have to pay employees for time spent in a voluntary training session offered during their lunch hour?
And here’s how our expert responded: Lunch-and-learns are used by some employers as an effective way to provide development opportunities for workers—without cutting into work time. However, managers and human resources staff need to be aware of the circumstances that will impact whether employees must be compensated for that time.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), training programs conducted during regular working hours are considered work time and must be compensated as such, says Susan Prince, JD, a legal editor with BLR®—Business & Legal Resources.

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She says after-hours training, including training that takes place during a nonexempt employee’s lunch break, need not be compensated if all of the following conditions are met:
1. Attendance is entirely outside normal working hours and is voluntary. Attendance will not be found voluntary if the employee is led to believe that attending is critical to his or her job;
2. The training is not directly related to the employee’s present job; and
3. The employee does not do any productive work during the program.

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A training program is considered directly related to the job if the training is designed to help the employee handle the present job more effectively, Prince explains. However, if employees attend an independent school, college, or trade school after hours on their own initiative, the time is not counted as hours worked, even if the courses are related to the job.
Therefore, if a training session takes place during a nonexempt employee’s lunch break and attendance is mandatory, the training is directly related to the employee’s current job, or the employee completes productive work during the training, the time must be counted as work time and, as a result, the employee must be paid for it, Prince says.