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Do Connecticut Employers Have to Pay Trainees?

  • Summer 2004

    Many employers require some type of training for newly-hired or potential employees.  The types of training offered by employers ranges considerably.  Regardless of the type of training, must an employer compensate employees during the training period? 

    Consider the following scenario:

    ABC Inc., a Connecticut company, trains and places customer service personnel with third-party companies.  Prospective employees recruited by ABC Inc. participate in a one-month training program conducted by ABC Inc. before placement with these other companies.  After the conclusion of the training program, some participants are then selected for full-time employment.  Should ABC Inc. pay the trainees during the training period?

    Connecticut law does not specifically address whether training program participants in this situation must be paid during their training period.  However, many of the definitions and terms used in Connecticut wage laws mirror the provisions found in the federal statute governing wages- the Fair Labor Standards Act (the FLSA).  Under the FLSA, if a person meets the definition of an ‘employee,’ that person must be compensated according to mandatory minimum wage provisions.  The FLSA defines an ‘employee’ simply as ‘any individual employed by an employer.’  The term ‘employ’ under the FLSA means ‘to suffer from or permit to work.’  Both of these definitions are substantially similar to the definitions found in Connecticut wage statutes.  Based upon these similar definitions and the lack of Connecticut case law regarding trainees and wage coverage, a person excepted from the FLSA’s wage requirements would also likely be exempt from state wage provisions.

    In interpreting the FLSA, the United States Supreme Court has found that trainees may, in certain circumstances, be excepted from the minimum wage provisions of the FLSA.  In a 1947 decision, the Supreme Court considered whether  prospective train yard brakemen were ‘employees’ within the meaning of the FLSA during the mandatory training period.  The Court found that, because the railroads did not receive any immediate advantage from the work done by the brakemen trainees during the training period, the brakemen were not ‘employees’ within the meaning of the FLSA.  Therefore, the brakemen did not have to be compensated during their training period.

    The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division used this Supreme Court decision to develop a six-part test to determine whether a trainee is an employee under the FLSA.  Although the circumstances surrounding each individual training program must be carefully examined, this test provides some guidance in evaluating training programs.  The six factors to be considered are:

    1. If the training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in a vocational school;
    2. If the training is for the benefit of the trainee;
    3. If the trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation;
    4. If the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees and, on occasion, the employer’s operations are actually impeded;
    5. If the trainees are not necessarily entitled to employment at the completion of the training period;
    6. If the employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

    If the answer to all of these questions is ‘yes,’ the trainees may be excepted from the FLSA’s definition of an ‘employee’ and, therefore, do not have to be compensated during the training period.  If the program does not satisfy all six factors, the trainees may be considered ‘employees’ under the FLSA and, if so, must be compensated during their training.  Employers should carefully evaluate any training programs in light of these factors to determine whether payment is required.

Do Connecticut Employers Have to Pay Trainees?

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