How to handle paying for staff continuing education courses

“Dear Practice Support Center” is a feature on cda.org that highlights a dentist’s unique employment question received by the Practice Support Center. Robyn Thomason, director of the Practice Support Center, will offer responses.

Dear PSC,

I like my staff to stay current on new advances in dentistry, therefore I require them attend certain courses that I believe will help in overall patient care. Since I pay for the course itself, do I have to pay the staff for attending the course as well?
–Sincerely, Supportive Boss

Dear Supportive Boss,

There are varying interpretations related to C.E. cost, or any training for that matter. The answer isn’t always cut and dry but sometimes falls into the category of “good business practices.” For starters, whether the employer pays for the course is not a factor when determining if there is a legal duty to pay for the employee’s hourly wages while attending the course. If the employee is required to take a course for the benefit of the office and is a nonexempt employee, you must pay the employee for the time that he or she attends the course. If their time exceeds the 40`hour workweek or exceeds an eight-hour workday, the employee is entitled to overtime pay. However, if an employee is taking a course on a voluntary basis, you do not have to pay the employee for that time.

Many employers state that they do not require their employees to attend, but emphasize that it’s a large benefit to the practice. If an employee believes that by not attending the course they would suffer some penalty, then the course is really a requirement and pay should be provided. If course attendance is truly voluntary the employer is not required to pay for the employee’s time or the cost of the course.

And if the employee is required to travel to attend the course, travel pay is due if the time was in excess of the employee’s typical commute time. The employee may also be entitled to over- time pay if the travel time pushes the employee beyond an eight-hour workday or a 40-hour workweek.

In a market where recruitment and retention of quality employees is vital, offering to pay for costs related to training can be a positive benefit of employment. When an employer places value on the employee’s education and training, it builds advanced knowledge for the practice and has a positive effect. This simple benefit can help ensure your practice is staying ahead of the herd.

Moreover, in light of economic strains, there has become an increasing need to review and adjust employee benefits. The benefit of covering the cost of education can be an inexpensive and welcomed offering for employees. If this isn’t a practical solution in your practice, however, be sure to have a policy in your office manual that clearly defines your C.E./training expectations. Clearly state that “required” course attendance will be paid for, as well as time attending the course.

If there are any questions regarding the perception of voluntary versus required, I recommend erring on the side of caution and paying for the course and time spent.

View the Sample Employee Manual here.