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Mandatory Off-Site Counseling Sessions May Be Paid ‘Work Time’

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in Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

If you require hourly employees to attend counseling or training workshops outside normal working hours as a condition of employment, you may need to pay employees for those hours. You may also need to pay the employees' travel time, too.

If other courts pick up the new 7th Circuit ruling, you may be required to pay overtime for employees' time spent in required off-duty medical treatment, psychological treatment or drug counseling.

Recent case: After police 911 dispatcher Kari Sehie walked off a double shift, the department ordered her to attend stress counseling each week or else she'd lose her job. The sessions were outside her normal work hours and took up three hours per week, including her drive to and from the counselor's office.

Sehie attended 16 sessions and then quit. She sued, demanding overtime pay for the hours spent on the couch and driving back and forth from the sessions. The court agreed that she should be paid because the counseling was mandatory and primarily benefited her employer. (Sehie v. City of Aurora, No 04-2308, 7th Cir., 2005)

Final tip: To avoid this risk, don't require employees to receive treatment or counseling as a condition of employment. A voluntary referral to your employee assistance program is a better idea and likely won't expose you to overtime liabilities. Even if you have employees sign "last-chance" agreements to obtain drug counseling, don't mandate that the employee receive treatment.

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