California Employee Training: Should You Be Getting Paid for Your Time? - Aiman-Smith & Marcy
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California Employee Training: Should You Be Getting Paid for Your Time?

Employers love this one:

  • Get a batch of new hires who haven’t received their first paycheck yet.
  • Tell them their start-date is a week out, but they’re expected to show up for job training as a closer date.
  • Provide mandatory training for days to a week before their “start date”.
  • Only start paying the employees when they are allowed to take up their official positions and begin “working”

Illegal Unpaid Training in California

Unpaid training is one of the oldest tricks in the book for underhanded employers looking to steal time. During those days to weeks of unpaid training time, you still have to pay for your bills, meals, gas to get to work and back, and can’t take any other work. In other words: this is highly illegal. According to California employment law, all time your employer requires you to spend on the job, even if you are not yet “being productive” absolutely must be paid. Otherwise, your employer is stealing your time and refusing to compensate.

Many employers try to claim that because the staff in training are not working, they should not be paid. They may try to schedule your training off the clock and call it recreational. They may even try to dock current employees of their normal pay due to mandatory training time. All of these are violations of your employee rights.

Let’s take a look at the rules, one by one, to define what defines training time that must be paid for:

The Training is Mandatory

Employers are allowed to offer all sorts of career development courses. And if those courses are optional or voluntary, they might even claim time spent training is an employment perk, not work time.

However, if your employer requires you to participate in training and meetings as part of your job, they must pay you for it. Any task considered mandatory to hold your position is considered a work duty and therefore a paid part of your job. Just as a valet spends waiting for a customer to drive up is still paid, even if they aren’t actively parking cars.

The Training Relates to Your Job

If your employer offers or requires you to attend training, in or out of the office, that relates directly to your work duties then this is also considered paid time. Because you are working on your on-the-job skills and have been asked to do so by your employer, you are officially working for them. 

Seeking training on your own to better your skills does not apply. But if your employer assigns you to learn work-related tasks in training, they must pay for your time spent doing the training course. 

The Training Takes Place During Regular or Overtime Work Hours

Whether or not the training is considered related to your work duties or even fully mandatory, if your employer sends you to train during normal work hours or extended overtime hours, your time must be paid. For example, if an employer assigns a retail associate to train on the inventory management software during their normal work hours, even if they don’t actually get re-assigned to inventory, that is paid work time. Likewise, if they ask you to stay late for the training which may become paid overtime.

The Training Produces Value or Product for Your Employer

Finally, and this is very important, training that produces something for the company must always be paid. Your employer cannot ask you to spend unpaid time training (or demonstrating skill) in a way that makes them something of value. This has gotten many employers in trouble when asking for demonstrations during interviews or offering optional training that happens to also create work-product.

If you create a marketing presentation that the employer then puts to use, or a piece of software that gets integrated into the employer’s technology, your time has been stolen unless they pay you for it.

California workers have a right to be paid any time they are doing what is required of an employer or creating value for the employer. Employers do not get to choose which one they pay for, they do not get to say training is voluntary when it is really mandatory, and they do not get to ask you to create them something for free.

Here at Aiman-Smith and Marcy, our legal team is dedicated to defending employee rights to fair pay and fair treatment. If you or your coworkers have been required to take unpaid training time or asked to create work-product for your employers without pay, your rights are being violated and back-pay is owed. Let us help make your employer change their ways, not just for you, but for every employee they are applying these thieving tactics to now and in the future.