Case study: seminar attendance

May 1, 2004
A doctor took his staff to Las Vegas for a seminar. He paid for travel expenses and tuition, but he didn't pay for the staff members' meals or their time at the seminar.

Bent Ericksen and Tim Twigg

A doctor took his staff to Las Vegas for a seminar. He paid for travel expenses and tuition, but he didn't pay for the staff members' meals or their time at the seminar. The staff complained to the Labor Board about not being paid for their time while attending the seminar and not being reimbursed for meals. The doctor had to pay back wages, including overtime, plus penalties of $24,000.

Considerations

Continuing education is an important part of any well-run practice, and is advantageous for both doctor and staff. For that reason, the dental staff is often asked to attend lectures and seminars. Issues to consider are whether attendance is required as part of the job, if the topic is work-related, if travel time is needed, if the time can be paid at a "different capacity work rate," and whether the seminar is being held during normal work hours or outside of normal work hours.

Solutions

Wage and hour issues related to seminar attendance come under the jurisdiction of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and individual state laws. Be sure to check your state wage laws or call our office for guidance.

Hours associated with attendance at seminars, meetings, or training usually are counted as hours worked when:

* The seminar takes place during an employee's regular working hours.

* The seminar takes place outside regular working hours and the seminar is directly related to the employee's jobs.

Typically, hours are not counted as working hours when the seminar is held outside of the employee's regular working hours and it is not directly related to the employee's job. Then, attendance is usually voluntary.

Note: A seminar is directly related to an employee's job if it is designed to enable the employee to handle the job more effectively. If the training teaches the employee how to do a new job, teaches a new skill that wouldn't improve handling of the present job, or upgrades the employee to a higher skill, but isn't intended to make the employee more efficient in the present job, it is not considered directly related.

To prevent misunderstandings regarding voluntary attendance, have staff members sign a "Continuing Education Agreement" form prior to the seminar, and place it in each person's personnel file. (Call our office for a complimentary copy.)

Regarding same-day travel, travel time to attend a meeting, seminar, or other type of training during or after normal work hours is paid time. This is also true of time spent when traveling from one workplace to another. The usual meal time may be deducted.

Relative to overnight travel and/or out-of-town seminars, the FLSA requires that travel time outside the normal work hours as a passenger on a train, bus, airplane, or automobile need not be counted as paid time, provided no work-related duties are performed. Some states have stricter laws and require that all travel time, even on a common carrier, is considered paid time. If leaving from home, rather than from the office, the normal travel time from home to the office may be deducted.

Pay for time or travel related to seminars or workshops need not be compensated at the same rate of pay as regular work. Employees who are not performing their normal job duties (such as when traveling or attending a seminar) may be paid at a "Different Capacity Work Rate." To use special rates, several conditions must be met:

1) The hourly rate of pay must equal or exceed the minimum wage requirements.

2) Each employee should sign a form, similar to our "Continuing Education Agreement Form No. 406," agreeing that any paid travel time or time attending the seminar will be paid at the applicable "Different Capacity Work Rate" established for travel and seminar attendance.

The FLSA principally addresses hours worked and does not impose requirements regarding expenses, making them negotiable between employer and employee.

To prevent misunderstandings regarding what expenses will be paid, make your decisions and communicate them in writing to the staff prior to attending any seminar. Be sure to cover such items as travel, meals (type of meals, what days, amounts or daily allowance), accommodations, tuition, salary, and supplies.

Bent Ericksen is the founder and Tim Twigg is the president of Bent Ericksen and Associates. For over 25 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resources and personnel issues, helping dentists successfully deal with the ever-changing and complex labor laws. Both authors are members of the Academy of Dental Management Consultants. To receive a complimentary copy of the company's quarterly newsletter or to learn more, contact them at (800) 679-2760 or at www.bentericksen.com.

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