Mandatory Online Training Compensable, Even Absent Time Records

By Jennifer L. Gokenbach November 9, 2017

Employers that require employees to participate in online training must compensate employees for the time it takes to complete the training, even if it is performed after regularly scheduled hours and not tracked, according to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Plaintiffs Barbara St. Pierre and Lynn Guillotte were employed as pharmacy technicians (PTs) with CVS Pharmacy in Shrewsbury, Mass. St. Pierre was employed for approximately four years with CVS, and Guillotte was employed for approximately 12 years. 

PTs are hourly employees who are responsible for production of prescriptions, entering prescriptions into the computer system and customer service. CVS required all PTs to regularly complete mandatory training courses through LEARNet, an online learning management system. LEARNet training courses covered new computer systems and changes in the law, among other topics. LEARNet tracks the courses completed by employees, including the date and time in which the training was completed. It does not, however, track the amount of time it took to complete a particular training activity.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Complying with U.S. Wage and Hour Laws and Wage Payment Laws]

The plaintiffs were required to record and report all time worked on a point-of-sale (POS) system at the store and also were required to review and sign their time cards to verify that they were paid for all hours worked. CVS had a policy that all PTs must be paid for time spent on LEARNet, whether the training was done at the store or remotely. Indeed, there was no dispute that training conducted on the LEARNet system is compensable time as a matter of law.

However, there was no clear mechanism for PTs to record their time spent on LEARNet, and there was conflicting testimony at the trial regarding how much time was actually spent by the plaintiffs on LEARNet and who was responsible for entering the time into the payroll system. In addition, the store at which the plaintiffs worked had a maximum budget for the hours worked by PTs, and since the store had a particularly busy pharmacy, PTs did not normally have time to work on LEARNet modules during scheduled shifts.

The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on all of their claims, including alleged violations of the Massachusetts Wage Act and the Massachusetts Minimum Wage Law and breach of contract. Under Massachusetts law, it is an employer's obligation to maintain time records for all employees.

Citing a U.S. Supreme Court case from 1946, Anderson v. Mt Clemens Pottery Co., the district court held that when an employer fails to keep complete written records of compensable work performed, employees may still recover damages based on evidence of the amount and extent of work as a matter of "just and reasonable inference." Here, both the plaintiffs were awarded 2.63 hours per month during their tenure for uncompensated LEARNet time.

St. Pierre et al. v. CVS Pharmacy, D-Mass., No. 13-13202-TSH (Sept. 18, 2017).

Professional Pointer: Employers have the duty to maintain accurate time records for all employees. When an employer is aware of employees completing work after hours, including, for example, mandatory online training, the employer (and not the employee) must ensure that all compensable time is recorded and paid.

Jennifer L. Gokenbach is an attorney with Gokenbach Law LLC, the Worklaw® Network member firm in Denver.

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