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DOL Issues Guidance for Continuing Education Compensation Requirements

DOL Issues Guidance for Continuing Education Compensation Requirements

The United States Department of Labor (DOL) recently released clarifications regarding continuing education compensability requirements. What should employers know about these changes, and how could they impact teams moving forward?

 

What’s the Story?

In early November 2020, the DOL released an opinion letter that provided employer compensability guidance for six different employee training time scenarios. In each of the given situations, employees’ participation in the training programs is voluntary and the employees don’t complete any productive work during the time. 

How do these different situations work, and how do they apply to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)?

 

Six Different Continuing Education Scenarios

Review the following situations and DOL responses, as outlined in FLSA 2020-15:

Situation 1

A nurse submits a request that’s subsequently approved to use her continuing education funds on an on-demand webinar directly related to her job. She also has CEUs that can go towards her licensing continuing education requirement. However, while she can view this webinar any time, she decides to watch it while not on the clock. 

 

Is it permissible to treat this as unpaid time? 

Yes. According to the DOL, this “special situation” shouldn’t be counted as compensable working time given that when she viewed the webinar (outside of work hours) is more important than the fact that she could have viewed it during work hours.

 

Situation 2

An accounting clerk submits a request that’s subsequently approved to use his education funds for an on-demand webinar directly related to his job but doesn’t have a continuing education component. He could have viewed the webinar at any time but decides to do so during his off-work time. Is it permissible to treat this as unpaid time?

 

Is it permissible to treat this as unpaid time? 

The DOL’s response states that there isn’t enough information to determine whether or not the employer should treat this situation as unpaid time. However, if additional facts demonstrated that the webinar “corresponds to courses offered by independent bona fide institutions of learning, then the time spent watching the webinar would not be considered compensable hours worked.”

 

Situation 3

An accounting clerk submits a request that’s subsequently approved to use his education funds for an on-demand webinar directly related to his job but doesn’t have a continuing education component. He could have viewed the webinar at any time but decides to do so during work hours. 

 

Is it permissible to require the employee to substitute PTO for the time spent watching the webinar?

No. When an employee spends part of their regular work hours to participate in a training program that directly relates to their job, the FLSA considers this work time. However, employers can establish a policy prohibiting this kind of situation during regular work hours. 

 

Situation 4

An accounting clerk submits a request that’s subsequently approved to use his education funds for an on-demand webinar that’s not directly related to his job and has no continuing education component. He could have viewed this webinar at any time but decides to watch during his work hours. 

 

Is it permissible to require the employee to substitute PTO for the time spent watching the webinar?

No. While the webinar isn’t directly related to his job, it is still considered work time by the FLSA when viewed during work hours. However, employers can establish a policy prohibiting this kind of situation during regular work hours. 

 

Situation 5

A nurse submits a request that’s subsequently approved to use her education funds for an on-demand webinar that isn’t directly related to her job but has credits that can go towards her licensing continuing education requirement. She could have viewed the webinar at any time but decides to watch it during her regular work hours. 

 

Is it permissible to require the employee to substitute PTO for the time spent watching the webinar?

No. While the webinar isn’t directly related to her job, it is still considered work time by the FLSA when viewed during work hours. However, employers can establish a policy prohibiting this kind of situation during regular work hours. 

 

Situation 6

A nurse submits a request that’s subsequently approved to use her education funds for an in-person, weekend conference that covers many topics, some of which directly relate to her job (and others that don’t), and CE credits are available. The nurse must travel out of town to attend, and while time spent traveling takes place during normal work hours, the actual conference takes place on days she doesn’t normally work. 

 

Does the nurse have to be paid? And if so, can an employer require her to substitute PTO for the time spent traveling and attending?

No. If the nurse doesn’t have to be compensated for her travel or training time provided that her participation is voluntary and she doesn’t perform and productive work during the trip.

 

How Should Employers Use This Information?

There are plenty of alternative situations that may take place instead of these exact scenarios. With this in mind, HR and employers should treat the six situations and subsequent DOL responses as general guidelines when considering employee compensation for continuing education situations and travel time scenarios. 

Companies may also decide to review and audit PTO policies to provide staff with more flexible time off. Doing so can boost retention and help reduce pain points associated with CE courses.

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