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The human resources landscape is constantly changing. Dentists have ongoing questions about how to handle staff issues. Take this month's questions, for instance. Could this dentist face legal action after a big argument with an employee? And, how should this office pay a hygienist who wants to earn extra money cleaning the office?
QUESTION: What are the obligations of dental employers when it comes to paying for continuing education for staff members?
ANSWER: Continuing education compensation is a topic that often causes enormous confusion among dentists, so I’ll attempt to be straightforward about an employer’s obligation.
There are laws that regulate continuing education compensation. Thus, you should become familiar with federal and state laws that set forth these regulations. Both federal and state laws use a set of four criteria to determine compensation requirements. Whether or not you have to pay for continuing education depends on whether or not the following four criteria are true:
1. Attendance is outside regular working hours.
2. Attendance is voluntary.*(*Attendance is not voluntary when an employee is given to understand or led to believe that continuance of employment or present working conditions would be adversely affected if he or she did not attend.)
3.The training session or meeting is not directly related* to an employee’s current job.
(*The training is directly related to an employee's job if it is designed to enable the employee to handle the job more effectively as distinguished from being trained for a different job or for a new or additional skill not required for the present job.)
(*If obtaining CE credits is part of maintaining licensure, as required by the state, it is considered an exception to the “directly related” criteria.)
4. The employee performs no productive work during the training.
If the answer to all of the above criteria is “yes,” then you do not have to pay for a continuing education event.If even one of the above criteria is not answered with a “yes,” then you have to pay for the continuing education event.
Please note that CE for licensure does not automatically exempt an employer from having to pay for continuing education. All three of the other criteria still have to be met. For example, if the CE event is for a licensed staff member, where no productive work will be performed and it is outside of normal work hours, but it is an event that you are requiring the person to attend, you must pay for it because not all of the criteria listed above are met (i.e., it is not voluntary).
What do you have to pay for? You have to pay for all of the time an employee spends at the training, even if it falls outside of normal work hours. You also have to pay for certain travel time, when applicable. Federal rules differentiate between one-day travel, overnight travel, and driving versus being a passenger in terms of when travel time is paid. Some states, such as California, require it all to be paid and make no such distinctions.
You can pay a different rate of pay (i.e., a “different capacity work rate”) for these events as long as the rate is established prior to the event, it is documented and signed by the employee, and it is minimum wage or higher.
Under federal law, you are not specifically required to pay for expenses (i.e., mileage, hotel, meals, flight, etc.), but there’s a catch to that as well. State laws are different and may require expenses to be paid at all times. For example, in California all expenses except meals have to be paid at all times.
Because of the variables and subtleties, it is best to treat every CE event separately rather than attempt to have a blanket policy to cover all of your practice’s CE events. Make the determination on a case-by-case basis before an event and ensure that you have proper documentation. Contact us if you want help in the determination or want sample documentation.
Human Resources Questions for Dentists is provided by Rebecca Boartfield and Tim Twigg of Bent Ericksen & Associates. Tim Twigg is president and Rebecca Boartfield is a human resources compliance consultant with Bent Ericksen & Associates. For 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resource and personnel issues, helping dentists deal successfully 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 bentericksen.com.