Four campus police officers were required to be certified as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) within one year of being hired as probationary police officers. Most of the required classes occurred outside of regular working hours. As part of a collective bargaining agreement, each employee received an $850 stipend for the classes but no other compensation.
Believing they should have pocketed overtime pay for time they spent earning the certification, the employees filed suit, claiming violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (). A lower court sided with the officers, saying the training time was integral to their main job. But a federal appeals court reversed.
Reason: The appeals court pointed to the Portal-to-Portal Act, which says employers don't have to pay workers for activities that are "preliminary or postliminary" to their main job duties.
The police officers didn't perform productive work while attending the EMT training. And after they were certified, they only occasionally used their EMT skills on the job. Because the training time wasn't "an integral and indispensable part of the principal activities for which they are employed," the college was off the hook for overtime. (Bienkowski v. Northeastern Univ., No. 01-1980, 1st Cir., 2002)
Advice: Paid training is a nice perk, but when it falls outside the boundaries of regular work hours, you'll need to judge whether overtime applies by gauging just how closely related the training is to the employee's main job responsibilities. If it's not absolutely essential to the job, you're on safe legal ground to refuse overtime pay.
But it would be a different story if the training or education were necessary to perform a key and direct part of the employee's job. To avoid any misunderstandings, consider making special certifications or job-related training a precondition of hiring, rather than a post-hiring necessity.