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Career Q&A: Headed for a training wreck

Q: I am a part-time hourly employee at a local hospital. The hospital has enrolled me and my fellow hourly colleagues in an e-learning program that we are expected to complete within a month. No mention has been made of compensating us for our time for this required training, which includes multiple sections and tests. I already pay minor expenses out of pocket for this job and wonder if they can require me to do this training on my own time without compensation. I wouldn't mind, except that the hospital cuts corners and then awards full-time employees cash bonuses, seemingly at the expense of suckers like me.

A: Unless I'm missing some information, either your managers are clueless about labor laws, or they're hoping you are. Let's change that.

Assuming this setup is as straightforward as it seems, you definitely should mind. According to the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division ( dol.gov/whd), non-exempt employees are entitled to be paid for time spent attending work-related lectures, meetings, training and the like, unless the training or event meets all four of these criteria: (1) It takes place outside normal business hours, (2) it is voluntary, (3) it is unrelated to your job and (4) no other work is performed during that time. Your training fails the "voluntary" test, since your employer requires it — and I expect it fails the "not job-related" test, too.

If you've confirmed that the hospital has no intention of paying you for your off-the-clock training, you should be prepared to elevate the issue to HR or beyond.

First, familiarize yourself with the payable work time rules via the DOL website: I recommend Fact Sheet .22, "Hours Worked Under the Fair Labor Standards Act," or Fact Sheet .53, "The Health Care Industry and Hours Worked" — or the DOL help line at 1-866-4-USWAGE. After learning the rules, make a polite inquiry with your supervisor about getting paid for your off-the-clock training. Also, make sure you and your colleagues keep track of the hours you spend on the course; the hospital can set a reasonable limit on the number of hours it will pay you for, so having evidence of how long the course actually takes may help set that "reasonable" threshold.

Now about those "minor" out-of-pocket expenses: Daily commuting and meals are your responsibility, but if you're paying for a legally required uniform or some other expense "primarily for the benefit or convenience of the employer," and that cost reduces your weekly pay below minimum wage, DOL says the employer has to pay or reimburse you for those expenses, too.

Have a chat with slacking co-worker

Q: I'm a part-time broadcast designer for a local TV station, helping create evening news graphics. My full-time co-worker's shift starts a half-hour after mine, but he's usually late — up to half an hour — and he frequently spends up to 45 minutes browsing Facebook or chatting before he starts working.

This is a high-pressure job with tight deadlines. My co-worker's poor work habits mean I have to work twice as hard so we can keep up. I've brought this up with my boss, and he has supposedly given my co-worker warnings, but the behavior continues.

This job is my only source of income. I am punctual and work hard, so seeing this guy goofing off while I pick up the slack is infuriating. What should I do?

A: I realize you have more to prove and less time to do it in, but your heroic efforts seem to be enabling his goofing off. What if you eased off a bit? Presumably he has to pick up the pace when you've left for the day, but that doesn't mean you should carry it all till then.

You've said all you should to the boss for now. How about talking to your co-worker? When he saunters in: "Morning, Tripp. I've already started on the triple homicide titles and water-skiing squirrel graphics — can you handle the local budget debate and zoning meeting?" Seeing a go-getter snagging the high-profile assignments might encourage him to be a little faster off the starting block. If not, keep running your own race. If you end up getting hired full time, you may find you need to pace yourself for the daily marathon.

Career Q&A: Headed for a training wreck 05/29/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 29, 2014 8:30pm]
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