Dealing with staff compensation for C.E. events

You've provided the education, a catered lunch and blocked out the time for you and your team. Now you're wondering what else you should provide when it comes to continuing education events for employees — most likely, compensation.

It's a common question for employers and the answers aren't always black and white. Generally, compensation is required for employees who spend time in lectures, courses, meetings and trainings directly related to their current position and held during regular working hours. Consider the following scenarios:

  • Your practice schedules a bi-monthly meeting on Thursday afternoons from noon to 1:30 p.m. You bring in lunch and attendance is mandatory. Should you compensate? The answer is yes. If your employee's presence is mandatory, the employee must be compensated. In addition, since your employee most likely was not provided a 30-minute unpaid meal break, by law they must also be paid an additional hour of pay for the day as a penalty for not providing the meal break time. In addition, should this extra hour add overtime to the employee's day, you must also pay appropriate overtime wages. In order to avoid this, a suggestion is to provide your employee a 30-minute unpaid break prior to the start of the mandatory meeting.

  • Your licensed staff is required to attend courses in order to legally maintain licensure. You've provided payment for attendance at a specific course offered in your local area. Are you required to compensate for the employees time in class? The answer is maybe. It is the responsibility of licensed staff to maintain active licenses, presumably, as a condition of employment. You, as the employer, are not responsible to pay for or reimburse for voluntary courses taken by your employee in order to maintain licensure, even if the time off requested is during a regularly scheduled business day. However, if you require staff to attend a specific course(s), then yes, the time in class and travel time to and from (beyond normal commute time) is compensable and reimbursement for the course is mandatory.

  • You've decided to send your staff for training out of town, which includes travel, hotel, conference registration costs and meals. You've informed your staff that the trip is voluntary and you're covering all expenses. Do you need to compensate all staff for attendance at courses during the conference? Maybe. With this type of event, you must consider several factors:

    • Each employee must be paid for their time attending courses deemed mandatory by you, unless the coursework is unrelated to the employee's regular job duties or required to obtain a higher position. However, even if your employee isn't required to attend and the training is directly related to your employee's job or if it aids him/her in performing the present job more effectively, or if your employee is led to believe his/her nonattendance would adversely affect working conditions or job security, your employee should be compensated for the time spent attending the course.
    • If your employee is required to drive to a course that is beyond their normal commute, then he or she must be paid for all drive time.
    • For an overnight workshop, compensation for travel time applies seven days a week and is essentially paid "door to door" – from the time the employee leaves home to the arrival at their final destination. As a result, the employee may end the workweek with overtime hours, which must be paid in accordance with overtime laws.
    • It's important to note that if the trip is considered voluntary, the employer does not need to pay for meals and expenses that the employee would normally incur should the employee not have attended, unless you require the employee attend a specific event. In addition, the employee would be compensated for the time attending. 

The question is often asked, is possible for an employer to pay employees at lower "training and travel rates" of pay that are less than the employee's normal compensation? The answer is yes, as long as the rates are in compliance with California labor laws and established minimum wages. However, the rates must be established in advance and well-documented. But, again, this area of the law is not black and white. If the training is considered mandatory by the employer, voluntary attendance is requested or implied, the training is directly related to the employee's job, or the training is held during a normal workday, it is recommended that the employer pay at the employee's normal rate of pay. 

At a time when practice owners are re-evaluating costly benefits packages and making cost-effective changes, and while continuing education benefits aren't mandatory, it is beneficial to practice owners to offer some amount of continuing education reimbursements as incentive to keep and attract quality employees. Employees feel valued if you're investing in their education and training. The practice benefits twofold when well-trained and well-educated employees increase their employment longevity, decreasing employee turnover costs and, ultimately, helping practices achieve long-term practice goals.

Practice owners should establish clear education compensation and travel policies in their employee manuals in advance of any employee request or travel opportunity.

For more information, view the Sample Employee Manual on cda.org/practicesupport.

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