By Tim Twigg and Rebecca Crane
Often, dentists want the benefits of continuing education, but they don’t want to pay for it. To the surprise of many, CE (i.e., time attending the course, meals, lodging, travel time, and tuition) comes under federal government and, in some cases, state government wage and hour regulations.
Incorrectly handled, the many facets of continuing education compensation can lead to significant labor board penalties and fines. Here is the most up-to-date information regarding continuing education pay.
Attendance at seminars, training programs, or workshops must be counted as hours worked when any one of the following is applicable:
- The CE happens during an employee’s normal work schedule
- Attendance is required by the employer outside the normal work schedule
- The course is directly related to the employee’s current job
- The employee performs productive work during the training
What about employees with licenses or certifications as conditions of employment due to their position within the practice? When this is the case, the license or certification is the exception to the CE being “directly related to the current job.” This designation does not, in and of itself, relieve the employer from compensation requirements that may still be applicable. The licensure or certification only exempts one criterion, not all of them. In order to be free and clear of compensation, the CE event must also be fully voluntary, outside regular work hours, and not include any productive work.
Travel time to and from a CE event
As a general rule, physically driving to a CE event that is in another city is considered work time, regardless of when the drive time hours occur (regular commute time can be subtracted).
Passenger travel on any common carrier (airplane, bus, train, etc.) is counted as time worked when the travel time cuts across normal work hours, and when it does, it must be paid. Normal work hours count on both regular workdays and days that are normally off. For example, if your employee works Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., then those are the individual’s normal work hours, even on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Travel and CE expenses
Expenses such as course fees, mileage reimbursement, meals, airfare, hotel, etc., are negotiable and the employer is not required to pay them. There are three exceptions:
- If the total cost of the expenses incurred by the employee reduces his or her earnings for that pay period to below minimum wage, then some or all of the expenses have to be paid by the employer to bring the employee’s wages up to or above minimum wage.
- All expenses have to be paid if the employee earns only minimum wage.
- Expenses must be paid if the employer has a policy or practice of paying employees’ expenses.
Note: State regulations may vary and be more stringent.
The total number of hours worked is the sum of regular working hours, plus hours spent attending CE events, and travel time to and from that event. Be sure you compensate at time-and-a-half for all applicable overtime hours.
Different capacity work rate (DCWR)
When employees engage in dissimilar types of work than they would do during a normal workday, they may be paid a different rate of pay than their normal pay. Seminar time and travel time may count as dissimilar work. To use this different rate, it must equal or exceed the minimum wage requirements, and all overtime hours must be paid based on a “weighted average.” Call us for a free copy of the Different Capacity Work Rate Form No. 406.
If you want a well-run practice with quality, well-educated staff, then CE is just a cost of doing business. There are some compensation responsibilities that are required of you; don’t shortchange your business for the sake of saving a few dollars. Be conscientious about the regulations, and balance that with the needs of your practice in a smart and economical manner. Your employees will be thankful, and your business will be better off.
Tim Twigg is the president of Bent Ericksen & Associates, and Rebecca Crane is a human resource compliance consultant with Bent Ericksen & Associates. For 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resource and personnel issues, helping dentists successfully deal with the ever-changing and complex labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more about its services, call (800) 679-2760, or visit the website at www.bentericksen.com.
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