Consider Other Obligations When You Schedule Training

When employers schedule training, they should be aware that they may have to meet certain other obligations that might not be so obvious.

Training time and wages

At first, it might seem like a good idea to present required training during employees' breaks and before or after their shifts. This practice could make scheduling easier, but it comes at a cost.

If employees are subject to the wage and hour provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (refer to 29 CFR Chapter V), time spent in safety meetings or training sessions may have to be counted as hours worked. If this is the case, these employees must be paid for this time.

The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division regulations on hours worked are found at 29 CFR Part 785. According to §785.1, "The amount of money an employee should receive cannot be determined without knowing the number of hours worked. This part discusses the principles involved in determining what constitutes working time."

According to §785.27: "Attendance at lectures, meetings, training programs, and similar activities need not be counted as working time if the following four criteria are met:

  • "Attendance is outside of the employee's regular working hours;
  • "Attendance is, in fact, voluntary;
  • "The course, lecture, or meeting is not directly related to the employee's job; and
  • "The employee does not perform any productive work during such attendance."

Meal periods are discussed at §785.19: "Bona fide meal periods are not worktime. ... The employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purposes of eating regular meals. ... The employee is not relieved if he is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating."

Again, concerning training, §785.28 states: "Attendance is not voluntary, of course, if it is required by the employer. It is not voluntary in fact if the employee is given to understand or led to believe that his present working conditions or the continuance of his employment would be adversely affected by nonattendance."

Continuing at §785.29: "The training is directly related to the employee's job if it is designed to make the employee handle his job more effectively as distinguished from training him for another job, or to a new or additional skill."

Therefore, if any one of the four criteria outlined at §785.27 are not met, then covered employees need to be paid for the training or meeting time.

Training and religious discrimination

Despite having to pay wages, employers may want to schedule training during weekends or evenings. However, the timing could interfere with employees' religious practices or beliefs. The employer could face charges of religious discrimination by requiring employees to attend training during times they usually devote to religious activities.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment. Religious practices include moral or ethical beliefs which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.

Employers must reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious beliefs or practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. A reasonable accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to practice his religion. Examples might include:

  • Flexible scheduling.
  • Voluntary job or shift substitutions or swaps.
  • Job reassignments and lateral transfers.
  • Modifying workplace practices, policies, and/or procedures.

Typically, requests for religious accommodations can be handled with a change in shift or work hours. If an accommodation is denied, the employer must show that the accommodation would result in undue hardship or would violate a bona fide seniority system. In the absence of these defenses, the employer has a duty to accommodate the employee.

An employer can show undue hardship on legitimate business interests if accommodating an employee's religious practices:

  • Requires more than ordinary administrative costs. Generally, a minimal administrative cost (such as rearranging schedules) is not sufficient.
  • Diminishes efficiency in other jobs.
  • Infringes on other employees' job rights or benefits.
  • Impairs workplace safety.
  • Causes co-workers to carry that employee's share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.
  • Would conflict with another law or regulation.

Employers should remain mindful of the possible need to adjust the scheduling if required training is being planned for weekends or evenings.

Training travel and workers' compensation

In a tragic case where an employee was fatally injured while traveling from a training class, the Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission has ruled that the employee's dependents are entitled to workers' compensation death benefits, thus overturning an administrative law judge decision. In the August 6, 2004 decision, the Commission found that the fatality arose out of and in the course of his employment.

In the case, an employee had completed a work-related training class designed to improve his skills in the electrician trade and to render himself more valuable to his employer. On his way home, he was killed by a drunken driver.

The evidence established that:

  • The employer paid for the tuition and books.
  • The employer was a dues-paying member of the organization operating the class.
  • The employer organization selected the site for the class and secured instructors.
  • The employer encouraged his employees to take the class.
  • The employer organization controlled the curriculum.
  • The employer had terminated an employee for failing his course work in this same program at an earlier date.
  • The death occurred at a place where the employee could reasonably be expected to be.

The Commission noted that there was "a direct causal connection between the employment and injury attributable to the conditions of the work. The accident can fairly be said to have been a rational consequence of a hazard connected with the employment. ... Employee's class attendance benefited both employee and employer. Employee's enrollment was encouraged and his successful completion of the program required, as witness the termination of another employee who did not succeed. The program required employee to travel to the employer provided location of the class. In that travel he was exposed to risks greater than the general public but inherent in the conditions existing in driving. He was killed by one of those hazards, a drunken driver. The benefit of compensation should not be withdrawn. ... We find that the fatal accident was within employee's course of employment as it occurred at a time and place where employee could reasonably be expected to be while fulfilling the duties of his employment. Employee was killed returning from the employer promoted class, from the employer provided location, and over a route required to accomplish his attendance. Employer derived the benefit of a more professional, better-trained workforce from the course being taken by this employee and by his co-workers. Employer paid dues for the privilege of membership in the organization sponsoring the course and encouraged attendance amongst his workers. We find a mutual benefit to exist and that employee's participation in the class was not purely personal."

Each state has its own workers' compensation requirements, and employers should consider employee coverage during required training sessions that are held during off-hours or off-site.

Overcoming scheduling problems

Aside from legal obligations, scheduling presents other challenges. Trainers should work with supervisors to set up training sessions that will not disrupt production schedules. Frequently, training groups are made up of workers from several different departments, so the content needs to be tailored to the needs of the people in the group.

Invitations

The trainees, and their supervisors, must be notified of scheduled classes. Trainers can do this by posting or emailing rosters, giving each department its own schedule, or addressing an invitation to each trainee. The notice, whether paper or electronic, needs to include the topic, date, time, and place. A map should be included if the training is off-site. Trainers should be prepared to make scheduling changes for employees who will not be able to attend at their scheduled time.

Shift work

When employees work on second or third shifts, it may be possible to have their hours adjusted so that they are available for training during the trainer's regular shift. If this is the case, the trainer and the supervisors should let the employees know that their special efforts to come in for the training session are appreciated (even though the employees may need to be paid for their time).

If the trainees are not available during the trainer's hours, the training will have to be provided during the other shifts. The trainer may have to adjust his or her hours to meet the schedule. As an alternative, someone on the other shift can be trained to be that shift's designated trainer.

Using technology might be the best approach in some cases involving shift work. Computer-based training programs don't care what time it is, but the trainer must still make provisions to have someone available to ensure the computer is running smoothly and, more importantly, to answer trainees' questions as they are asked.

Make-up sessions

Scheduling make-up sessions is inevitable. There will always be someone who can't attend at the scheduled time. Usually there are very good reasons for missing a class, so trainers and supervisors should not make the trainee feel guilty. However, if an employee's lack of attendance at required training programs becomes a continuing problem, it may be best to initiate disciplinary action.

Often, the trainer can set up a single make-up session for all of the people who missed the earlier class. On the surface, this looks like the best solution, however, the class could be made up of people who approach the training topic from different job functions. This would require the content to be modified to address everyone's needs, and, depending on the topic, it may be difficult to approach the training in this manner.

Bypass the classroom

Sometimes a formal class isn't necessary. If the training material is very limited in scope, trainers can use short, five to 15-minute meetings to present the material to small groups of employees. These sessions can be effective because they are informal and are usually presented at the jobsite; workers take in the information as part of their job instructions.

Conclusion

One last tip about scheduling is for the trainers to schedule in some time for themselves, too. If sessions are scheduled back-to-back, or if classes are held all day, the trainer needs to schedule in enough time to allow him or her to:

  • Talk with people who stay behind to follow up on a point from the class.
  • Take care of recordkeeping functions from the class that has just finished.
  • Set up materials for the next class.
  • Check for important messages that need attention.
  • Drink some water, use the restroom, and take a few deep breaths.

Making sure the class actually happens involves a variety of considerations aside from the training material content. Employers and trainers must pay careful attention to detail to make sure everyone who needs the training is trained. Scheduling is, perhaps, the most difficult aspect of the training program.

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