DEAR CARRIE: I am a teacher’s aide in a local school district. The district requires us to take online training, which we can do on a computer at home or at school. We recently had to complete an online session, and it took me two hours to work my way though all six parts. I found out later that we were supposed to complete only the three parts related to safety, and the district had said the test would take about an hour. But all six said “required” and seemed to be safety related. Does the district have to pay me for the full two hours I spent taking the test? Most people made the same mistake. — Testing My Rights
DEAR TESTING: You probably should be paid for that time for two reasons: The training meets the definition of work, and the burden is on the employer to clarify the training instructions, said Irv Miljoner, who heads the Long Island office of the U.S. Labor Department.
“The fact that she didn’t construe it properly could indicate that the employer didn’t clarify” what the training consisted of, he said.
Hourly workers must be paid for training that is considered work. And federal labor law considers training work, unless it meets four criteria. Here’s what the Labor Department’s Fact Sheet 22 says:
“Attendance at lectures, meetings, training programs and similar activities need not be counted as working time only if four criteria are met, namely: It is outside normal hours; it is voluntary; not job related, and no other work is concurrently performed.”
Your work doesn’t meet most of those; so it seems you should be paid.
“So we would argue that this was work-directed training and should be counted as time worked,” Miljoner said.
Regulators and lawyers always stress that they can’t know definitively where the law stands on individual cases until they know all the facts. But you seem to have a good reason to push back if the district declines to pay you for the full two hours. For more information call the department at 516-338-1890 or 212-264-8185.
DEAR CARRIE: Our employee manual states that if you use your personal vehicle for company business, you should be reimbursed for mileage. I am regularly required to attend corporate meetings 15 miles away. I have inquired at least four times about where to submit paperwork for mileage reimbursement. I was unable to get an answer. I finally asked the vice president of human resources, and she said the policy covers “only employees who are specifically hired for positions that require regular use of their cars.” Is this legal? — Lost Miles
DEAR LOST: Too bad you couldn’t get mileage for that communications runaround. But it appears from the human resource manager’s response that you don’t qualify for the company’s mileage reimbursement program. And it is legal for the company to determine the criteria for such programs because they aren’t mandated. It’s unfortunate that the terms and conditions of the mileage benefit haven’t been communicated better. Your best bet may be to claim your car expenses on your income taxes.
Go to bit.ly/LIworktime for more on when training sessions are considered work.