You must pay employees for almost all training time

Most training is designed to help employees perform their jobs better. Almost always, that means training time is paid time.

You must pay an employee for time spent attending training programs and lectures unless the following apply:

  • Attendance is outside regular working hours.
  • No other work is concurrently performed.
  • The training is not job-related. 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.
  • It is voluntary. Simply calling the training “voluntary” isn’t good enough if employees believe they would suffer adverse consequences for skipping the sessions.

If you give employees the impression that they must attend or risk losing their jobs, their attendance isn’t considered voluntary. If the training is intended to help an employee perform her job better, it’s directly related to her job.
But if the purpose is to upgrade an employee’s skills in hopes of advancement—and you haven’t required her to attend—you don’t have to pay her for training time.

These conditions indicate that so-called “voluntary” training is really mandatory and, thus, compensable:

1. Job postings indicate employees must be willing to learn things covered in training sessions. In this case, ads for casino dealers said applicants must be “willing to learn all games offered in the casino.” The training sessions taught those games.

2. Employee performance reviews are affected. In one recent case, casino employees were encouraged in their reviews to learn new games so they could work more stations on the casino floor. To learn new games, they had to attend training sessions, leading the court to rule that the training was involuntary.

3. Employees are led to believe that skipping the training will have adverse effects like poor performance reviews, assignments to less desirable shifts, termination or demotion. The casino employees in the above case said they feared they wouldn’t be considered valuable employees unless they took the courses and learned new games.

4. The training is designed to make the employee more effective at a current job, rather than preparing for a new position or promotion.

What about any hours spent in an apprenticeship program? Usually, you can exclude this period from paid time if the apprenticeship meets the standards of the Labor Department’s Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training and the instruction doesn’t involve productive work or performing regular duties. You must count instruction time, however, if the written agreement specifically provides for it.

For details, contact the Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services at (202) 693-2796 or go to