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Do we have to pay workers for time spent in new hire orientation?

Yes, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay workers for hours they are "suffered" or "permitted to work." To determine whether an employer has suffered or permitted an employee to work, employers may review the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Fact Sheet on Hours Worked. According to the DOL, attendance at lectures, meetings, training programs and similar activities do not need to be counted as working time only if four criteria are met:

  • Attendance is outside normal hours.
  • Attendance is voluntary.
  • The event is not job-related.
  • No other work is concurrently performed.

Orientation can be considered a lecture, meeting and training program. Because new-hire orientation is generally held during normal hours, is mandatory and is related to an individual's employment and because some work may be performed (i.e., completion of new-hire paperwork, benefit elections), employers must  pay the individual for time spent in an orientation meeting or training session. The FLSA hours worked regulations 29 C.F.R. §785.27-§785.32 provide detailed guidance on the four criteria above.

In practice, sometimes an employee does not return to work after new-hire orientation, and employers may wonder whether the individual needs to be entered into the payroll system and paid for the time spent in training. Again, following the reasoning above, the individual would need to be paid for this time as hours worked. Employers should generally enter the individual in the payroll system with information provided either in the individual's new-hire paperwork or employment application.

If the individual did not complete tax forms or other necessary paperwork, employers must withhold taxes as if the individual had claimed no exemptions, and the employer must forward the paycheck to his or her last known address, which can usually be found on the employment application or resume.


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