If you offer extra off-duty training to your hourly employees, pay extra attention to the rules that explain when those hours must be “paid time.” In most cases it will, but the Fair Labor Standards Act does give you a four-step ladder to climb to a pay exemption (see box below).
Simply calling the training “voluntary” isn’t good enough if employees believe they would suffer adverse consequences for skipping the sessions.
For example, when several dealers at an Illinois casino sued recently, saying they weren’t paid for after-hours training sessions on new games of chance, the casino countered by saying the training was “voluntary,” not required. Plus, the casino argued, it wasn’t specifically job-related because it taught employees new skills.
The employees argued that the casino essentially required the training because it criticized anyone who dropped a course and figured those training absences into the employees’.
The court sided with the employees, saying the case could go forward as a class action. (Nehmelman, et al., v. Penn National Gaming, No. 11-C-23, ND IL, 2011)
Final note: On-site college courses are an example of training that typically does not have to be paid because it prepares employees for different jobs. That’s true even if the classes benefit the employer.