The federal Fair Labor Standards Act, in addition to state wage laws, governs compensation for training and other activities at work. An employee who watches an on-demand training webinar during normal work hours must be paid for that time under FLSA, according to a recent U.S. Department of Labor opinion.
Workers are entitled to compensation for watching these webinars even if these were not directly related to their job, according to the USDOL opinion letter issued earlier this month. It is immaterial that the on-demand training was voluntary, and the worker could have viewed it outside of work.
In its opinion, DOL said that Federal law requires payment of unrequested work even though the work was permitted or took place during working hours. But the DOL said that employers could forbid employees from viewing webinars during work hours.
Attending lectures, meetings, training programs and similar events is normally not counted as compensable work time if four requirements are met. The attendance must be outside normal working hours, voluntary, unrelated to the employee’s job and the worker may not engage in any productive work while attending the program.
There may be more attention on webinars because employers have converted to virtual training during this year’s pandemic. E-learning comprised 21 to 40 percent of the median organization’s training courses, according to the Association for Talent Development. This was an increase from a share of one to 20 percent in 2019. Also, 89 percent of organizations responding to a survey used e-learning for required and compliance training.
In another opinion, DOL said that a nurse does not have to be paid for traveling to an in-person conference for training where some of the topics were directly related to her job. The travel occurred during normal business hours and was paid by company-provided education funds. Attendance was voluntary and the nurse did not engage in any productive work during her travel.
DOL’s opinion letters may not apply to certain situations or constitute binding guidance for courts. An attorney can help provide guidance on this and other wage requirements under FLSA and New York and New Jersey wage laws.