The FLSA regulations on training time are very specific and, often, hard for an employer to comply with. There are four conditions precedent for such time to be non-compensable and they must all be satisfied or else the time is working time. A recent case involving Newark, New Jersey police officers illustrates these principles. The case is entitled Aziz et al. v. City of Newark and was filed in federal court in the District of New Jersey.
The conditions precedent to establish the non-compensability of training time are: 1) the training must be outside of regular working hours; 2) it must be voluntarily attended; 3) the training cannot be related to the employee’s current job; and 4) the employee cannot perform any productive work during the training.
The plaintiffs have asked the court to approve the settlement reached. The City would put $2.7 million into a fund, from which 185 employees who opted into the action will share. These officers all attended training at the Sea Girt Police Academy in 2017 and 2018. The named plaintiffs will each get $10,000 payments; the lawyers will receive more than one million dollars in fees. Almost one third of the original class members were eliminated as their claims were submitted in an untimely manner.
The plaintiffs alleged they were not paid for training time when they worked almost eighty hours per week at the Sea Girt Police Academy in 2017-2018. Many officers had missed the deadline to opt in; the plaintiffs urged that the statute of limitations should be tolled because the defendants had supposedly sought to deceive the officers about their right to overtime with “false” waivers for overtime claims. The Judge ruled that the officers who missed the time deadlines had not alleged they were actually misled by the waivers so their efforts to join the suit were denied.
The Judge also ruled that the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic did not hamper their ability to sign the single piece of paper to join the lawsuit. They were unable to specify the manner in which the pandemic adversely impacted their ability to become members of the class. The Judge also refused to issue injunctive relief because the plaintiffs could not prove they would suffer future harm.
There was an element of compulsion here as the officer candidates were clearly obligated to undergo the training. The training time can be paid at the minimum wage (State or federal, whichever is higher) but something must be paid for this time. Employers need be aware that all four conditions must be complied with/met in order for employers to assert that such training time is not working time.
Sometimes, this is a hard lesson to learn…