Some employers believe that any time employees spend in training must be compensable working time. But that's not true.
The federal government sets strict rules on the type of training that must be paid. But several exceptions exist. For example, if employees use their own time to study materials that will qualify them for promotions, that time generally doesn’t have to be paid.
To fit into the "no-pay" exception, the training must meet the four criteria in the box below.
Recent case: Former employees sued a Burger King franchise, alleging they had not been paid for time they spent preparing for possible promotions.
The company required employees who wanted to pursue promotions to participate in a self-directed learning program. They completed workbooks and watched videos that explained higher-level jobs. No one was required to learn the material, and all self-learning materials had to stay in the restaurant.
The court dismissed their payment claims, citing Fair Labor Standards Act regulations. Because the training was voluntary, happened outside employee working hours, wasn’t directly related to their current jobs and didn’t involve any actual work, the time spent learning the material was not paid time. (Seever, et al., v. Carrols Corporation, No. 02-CV-6580L, WD NY, 2007)
Final note: The case would have turned out differently if the training actually had involved real-work tasks.