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posted: 5/18/2014 6:28 AM

Work Advice: Headed for a training wreck

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Q: I am a part-time hourly employee at a local hospital. The hospital has enrolled me and my fellow hourly colleagues in an e-learning program that we are expected to complete within a month. No mention has been made of compensating us for our time for this required training, which includes multiple sections and tests. I already pay minor expenses out of pocket for this job and wonder if they can require me to do this training on my own time without compensation. I wouldn't mind, except that the hospital cuts corners and then awards full-time employees cash bonuses, seemingly at the expense of suckers like me.

A: Unless I'm missing some information, either your managers are clueless about labor laws, or they're hoping you are. Let's change that.

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Assuming this setup is as straightforward as it seems, you definitely should mind. According to the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (www.dol.gov/whd), non-exempt employees* are entitled to be paid for time spent attending work-related lectures, meetings, training and the like, unless the training or event meets all four of these criteria: (1) It takes place outside normal business hours, (2) it is voluntary, (3) it is unrelated to your job and (4) no other work is performed during that time. Your training fails the "voluntary" test, since your employer requires it -- and I expect it fails the "not job related" test, too.

If you've confirmed that the hospital has no intention of paying you for your off-the-clock training, you should be prepared to elevate the issue to HR or beyond. First, familiarize yourself with the payable work time rules via the DOL website: I recommend Fact Sheet #22, "Hours Worked Under the Fair Labor Standards Act," or Fact Sheet #53, "The Health Care Industry and Hours Worked" -- or the DOL help line at 866-4-USWAGE. After learning the rules, make a polite inquiry with your supervisor about getting paid for your off-the-clock training. Also, make sure you and your colleagues keep track of the hours you spend on the course; the hospital can set a reasonable limit on the number of hours it will pay you for, so having evidence of how long the course actually takes may help set that "reasonable" threshold.

Now about those "minor" out-of-pocket expenses: Daily commuting and meals are your responsibility, but if you're paying for a legally required uniform or some other expense "primarily for the benefit or convenience of the employer," and that cost reduces your weekly pay below minimum wage, DOL says the employer has to pay or reimburse you for those expenses, too.

*Note to DOL: Any chance of coming up with a less tortured term for "workers subject to minimum wage and overtime laws"?

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Thanks to Elaine Fitch, of the Washington employment law firm Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch.

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Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.

WASHINGTON POST-BLOOMBERG--05-14-14 0817ET

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