Today’s FLSA Question
I am a fire chief of a small combination department. Two of my officers want to attend the FDIC (Fire Department Instructors Conference) this year in Indianapolis. It is a great conference—I wish I could join them. I am more than happy to sponsor them, pay any fees associated with attendance, and give them time off to attend. Their attendance is completely voluntary, and they are under no obligation. The payroll manager at city hall claims that since we are approving this and paying for it, the FLSA requires us to pay the firefighters for all the hours they are there. Is this true? And if it is true, what about the firefighters who attend fire science courses at the community college? We approve the courses in advance and reimburse the firefighters’ tuition costs. Do we need to pay them as well?
Determining what training time is compensable under the FLSA is not an easy task. The answer involves a careful examination of the facts.
The general rule requires job-related training be compensated. Additionally, almost all required training must be compensated. Whether or not the employer pays for and/or sponsors the attendance at the training does not necessarily, on its own, mandate compensability. However, there are several unique exceptions contained in the regulations that can make job-related training non-compensable. Let’s look at two that may match up to the scenario described above.
The first exception that may be applicable to this situation is contained in the regulations at §785.31 and is entitled “Special Situations.” This unique exception allows employees to attend “lectures, training sessions and courses of instruction” outside normal working hours without compensation. Attendance must be voluntary and outside of the normal working hours in order to qualify for this exception. Whether the employer pays for the training, or if the training is “directly related” to the employee’s job is irrelevant in determining whether this training needs to be compensated.
The second potential exception that addresses these concerns can be found at §785.30 and is entitled “Independent Training.” Independent training allows employees at their own “initiative” to attend “independent school, college or independent trade school after hours” without getting paid—even if the classes are directly related to their jobs.
A key part of this analysis is whether the training is voluntary. Voluntariness on the part of the employee is required for either of these exceptions to apply. Also, it is imperative that you examine state law in your jurisdiction. Some states or even local jurisdictions could provide greater benefits to employees than the FLSA requires.
This is one of many topics discussed at all our upcoming Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for Fire Departments seminars. The only remaining offering for 2017 is sold out, however we recently announced two offerings for the spring of 2018. Please consider joining us.