This post was authored by Lisa S. Charbonneau.

Many employers struggle with properly paying non-exempt employees who attend courses, conferences, seminars, meetings, and other trainings. In the absence of labor agreement provisions or other agency rules or policies governing this issue, public agency employers must follow the rules of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when evaluating whether an employee is entitled to compensation for training time.

Under the FLSA, training time is not compensable work time if: (1) the training takes place outside of the employee’s regular working hours, (2) attendance is voluntary, (3) the training program is not directly related to the employee’s job, and (4) the employee performs no productive work during the training.  Click here to view the Department of Labor (DOL) regulation setting forth these rules.

What does this look like in real life? Let’s say a Detective who works Monday through Friday, 9 am – 5 pm, was permitted to attend a weekend intensive seminar on investigation skills.  She performed no productive work for her Department at the training.  Is she entitled to compensation for the time she spent in the training intensive?  Probably yes.  Even though the training was outside her regular work hours, she performed no productive work, and her attendance was voluntary, the training program was directly related to the Detective’s job and is therefore compensable hours worked.

In a change of facts, what if the detective’s Department did not approve her attendance at the training due to budget concerns and the Detective decided to attend the training on her own initiative. Would she still be entitled to compensation for the time she spent in the training? Probably not.  Where an employee attends an outside training while off duty on his or her own initiative, the time is not considered compensable hours worked – even if the training is related to his or her job.

Practice Tip: Be wary of approving attendance at trainings that occur outside of an employee’s regular work hours.

What about the time the Detective spent travelling to the training? Assuming the training time was compensable, was her travel time compensable? It depends – on a number of factors.  Importantly, the law governing this issue differs as between charter cities and counties on the one hand (which only need to follow the FLSA) and other public agency employers (which must also follow State law).  If the Detective works for a charter city, the FLSA applies and generally speaking she would be entitled to compensation for travel time that occurred during her regular work hours only. That means the time she spent driving herself to the training between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm – even though it is her day off – will be compensable hours worked.  (There are certain exceptions to this general rule, such as when an employee is a passenger and/or public transportation has been offered.  Click here to view the DOL regulations setting for these rules.)  If the Detective works for a general law city, however, California State law applies and she will likely be entitled to compensation for all time spent travelling.

The rules and legal tests governing the compensability of training time and travel time are complex and applying them to real life scenarios requires fact-specific analysis. Public agencies are well advised to consult legal counsel in making such determinations.