On November 3rd, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued an opinion letter regarding the compensability of employee training time. This is not a new regulation or law, but non-binding guidance on a few scenarios that employers might encounter.  These scenarios assume that all employees (full or part-time) are provided CEU’s by their employers and gain no work-related benefits from attending, or not attending, these courses. The DOL notes that it is certainly within an employer’s right to establish a policy that prohibits such viewing of on-demand webinar during regular work hours. Here are a few of the most salient examples, in our view:

  1. Nurse W requests to attend an on-demand webinar, which relates directly to her job and encompasses CEUs (continuing education units) that can go towards her licensing requirement. The employer agrees to pay for the webinar. She has the option to view it anytime but chooses to do so outside of her regular hours. Even though the webinar is directly related to the nurse’s job, the employer is not required to pay her hourly wages for the time she spends attending it, as she is doing it in her off time and voluntarily.
  2. An accounting clerk requests to use employer funds to attend  a webinar that is not directly related to his job and has no CEU component. The employer approves the request. The clerk, who can view it anytime, decides to view the webinar during his work hours. The DOL states that even though the webinar isn’t directly related to the clerk’s job, the viewing time would qualify as working time since it is being done during his regular working hours.
  3. A nurse requests employer funds funds for an in-person, weekend conference that covers numerous topics, some of which do relate directly to her job and has CEU’s. The employer approves the request. To attend the conference, the nurse travels out of town. Her travel time and the conference schedule cut across her normal work hours, but the actual day of the conference occurs on a non-working day. The DOL deems that the nurse does not need to be compensated for any of her travel or training time because the training is voluntary and occurs outside of the nurse’s regular work hours. Additionally, the Nurse’s travel time to the conference would be personal travel time since the training conference would not constitute work time.

Take Away: This opinion letter does not alter the general proposition that employers are not required to compensate hourly  employees for optional training taken outside of work hours. However, if the employee views on-demand training during regular working hours, then it is considered compensable, unless deemed otherwise through the employer’s own policies.

I hope this helps in your interpretation. Remember that these are hypothetical situations only and should not be considered legal advice for any one particular circumstance.