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Be upfront about pre-hire training needs

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Does your company mandate training courses before a new hire starts? If so, let job candidates know about these requirements and whether they'll be paid for the time. Silence over the issue will only breed confusion, and possibly a lawsuit.

Recent case: A construction staffing firm required applicants to complete a 10-hour safety course either before starting work or within the first 60 days on the job. The U.S. Labor Department sued the company, alleging that failing to pay training time violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.

While a lower court sided with the government, a federal appeals court tossed out the case, saying training time doesn't have to be paid.

Reason: Labor Department regulations say you don't have to pay workers for training time if that training meets four criteria: 1) attendance is outside regular work hours; 2) employees don't do productive work during training; 3) the course isn't directly related to the employee's job; and 4) attendance is voluntary.

Both sides agreed on the first three issues. The question: Was this training time "voluntary"? The court said it was, mainly because the applicants were clearly told about the training requirement before they were offered the job. Because applicants had a choice to take the job or not, the training was considered voluntary. (Chao v. Tradesmen International Inc., No. 00-4434, 6th Cir., 2002)

Advice: Always inform job candidates about pre-employment requirements before you offer them a job. The court in this case admitted that it might have ruled differently if the applicants hadn't known of the training requirement until after being hired.

If you have training requirements, require proof of completion before you consider candidates eligible for hire. Or hire them conditionally if they register and complete the course within a certain time period.

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