Effective employee training is critical to maintaining a safe and productive workplace and complying with certain federal and state laws. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about employee training, including what training is required and whether employees must be paid during training.
Q: What training am I required to give employees?
A: Depending on your jurisdiction or industry, you may be required to provide certain types of training to your employees, such as:
Sexual harassment. Several states, including California, Connecticut, Maine, and New York (effective October 9, 2018) require employers to provide sexual harassment training. Check your state law for specific training requirements, including who must be trained, the frequency in which sexual harassment training must be provided, the required content of the program, and recordkeeping requirements.
Safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires certain employers to train employees in the safety and health aspects of their jobs. Other OSHA standards make it the employer’s responsibility to limit certain job assignments to employees who are “certified,” “competent,” or “qualified”—meaning that they have had special previous training, in or out of the workplace. Some of OSHA’s training requirements are listed below. Note: There are a number of other OSHA training requirements. Be sure to comply with all regulations that apply to your industry, workplace, and employees and maintain proof of all training conducted.
Emergency Action Plan. Employers required to have an OSHA emergency action plan must train a sufficient number of employees to assist in safe and orderly emergency evacuation (see 29 CFR 1910.38).
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Employers must provide training to any employee required by OSHA regulations to wear PPE (see 29 CFR 1910.132 and 29 CFR 1910.134).
Hazard Communication. Employers with hazardous chemicals in the workplace must provide employees with effective training at the time of their initial assignment and whenever a new chemical hazard is introduced into their work area (see 29 CFR 1910.1200).
First Aid. If an infirmary, clinic, or hospital isn’t close to the workplace, the employer must ensure that one or more individuals are adequately trained to provide first aid (see 29 CFR 1910.151).
Job- or industry-specific. Certain federal and state laws require training for employees with specific job functions. For example, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires health care providers and other covered entities to train their workforce on protecting health information. In addition, Hazardous Materials Regulations require employers to provide specific safety training to employees who directly affect hazardous materials transportation. Check your industry requirements for more information.
Q: Is there any other training I may want to consider?
A: Whether required to or not, it’s a best practice to train your workforce on certain issues, including:
Harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Even in states without specific requirements, supervisor and employee training on sexual and other types of harassment, discrimination, and anti-retaliation is a best practice. Trainings should explain that the company will not tolerate discrimination against applicants and employees based on any characteristic that is protected by law or company policy. Employers should also train employees on how to report, investigate, and respond to incidents of discrimination and harassment. Additionally, make clear that taking any adverse action against employees who make a complaint or participate in an investigation of alleged discrimination or harassment is prohibited.
FLSA. Training supervisors on the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) can help employers comply with various wage and hour and timekeeping requirements. At a minimum, the training should address overtime requirements, that employees are strictly prohibited from performing off-the-clock work, and the systems in place to ensure all work hours are properly recorded and compensated.
Performance management. Whether new or tenured, all supervisors should receive adequate training on effectively managing employee performance. Address the company’s performance review process, how to set clear performance goals, guidelines for giving objective and constructive feedback, how to avoid bias, and how to effectively coach employees.
Leave of absence. Training supervisors on leave laws can help ensure that supervisors respond appropriately to leave requests. At a minimum, the training should provide an overview of applicable leave laws, how supervisors should handle leave requests, and job reinstatement following the employee’s return. Training should also stress that job-protected leave may not count against an employee when evaluating his or her attendance or performance.
Compliance and ethics. Effective training can help promote a culture of compliance with the law and ethical business practices. Compliance and ethics training should cover the company’s policies, procedures, and efforts to prevent, detect, and address wrongdoing, as well as the compliance requirements of any laws that may apply to the company, such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
Q: Do I have to pay employees for time spent in training?
A: In most cases, the FLSA requires employers to pay non-exempt employees for the time they spend in training. In order for training time to be unpaid, the training must meet all four of the following criteria:
Attendance is outside of the employee’s regular working hours;
Attendance is voluntary;
The training is not directly related to the employee’s job; and
The employee does not perform any productive work during such attendance.
Under the FLSA, training is directly related to the employee’s job if it is designed to help the employee handle their current job more effectively, as distinguished from training the employee for another job (such as a higher level position).
Q: We are a doctor’s office and require employees to attend training on patient privacy. The training will take place at the end of the employee’s regular shift. Is pay required?
A: Yes. The time spent attending the training must be paid because the training is not voluntary and is related to the employee’s job.
Q: As part of our benefits program, we provide employees with tuition assistance so that they can take various courses that do not necessarily relate to their current positions. The program is strictly voluntary and classwork occurs outside of regular working hours. If an employee decides to participate, the employee does not perform any work during the course. Is pay required?
A: Pay for the hours spent attending the course would not generally be required because this program would meet all four criteria listed above: attendance is voluntary and outside regular working hours, the course is not directly related to the employee’s current job, and no productive work is performed during the course.
Q: For time spent in training, can I pay non-exempt employees a lower wage than their regular rate?
A: As long as the rate meets or exceeds the highest applicable minimum wage, you may generally pay a different wage for nonproductive time, such as training, than you do for productive time. It is a best practice, and a requirement in certain jurisdictions, to notify the employee in writing of the separate rate before they perform nonproductive work. Note: This applies to non-exempt employees only. Employees classified as exempt from overtime must generally be paid their full salary.
Q: Can I require employees to pay for the cost of training? If employees leave soon after we have trained them, can I recoup the costs from them?
A: Many of the laws that require training also prohibit employers from passing along the costs to employees. Additionally, some states protect employees from incurring costs for work-related expenses, such as training, even if the training isn’t required by law. Even if these laws don’t apply to you, deductions from an employee’s paycheck for training may be limited or prohibited by the FLSA and/or similar state law.
Make sure your training program meets your company’s needs and complies with federal and state laws.