Is Unpaid Training Legal in California?

Yes, unpaid training is illegal in California. California employers must pay for mandatory training. Employees not paid for meetings or job training can sue for unpaid training.

Author: Brad Nakase, Attorney

Email  |  Call (888) 600-8654

You show up for work, and the employer requires mandatory job training such as sexual harassment, computer system, or machine. The time you spend training is working time and must be paid. If the training is sitting in a meeting and listening, that is work time and must be paid. Slavery was abolished and no workers should attend mandatory work training for free! If the employer does not pay you for mandatory training, you can sue.

In this article, our Los Angeles employment attorney discusses unpaid job training as follows:

If my employer refuses to pay for mandatory training, what should I do?

All employers that require their workers to attend mandatory training must pay wages for the training. If your employer refuses to pay for mandatory training, you should contact an employment attorney to help you get compensated for attending the mandatory training. Most employment attorneys will work on a contingent basis, meaning they will only be paid if they recover money for you.

Illegal Unpaid Training

Unpaid training is a common method used by sneaky employers who want to save money. However, it is illegal. Employees subjected to unpaid training still need to pay bills and travel to and from work. An employer who makes an employee do unpaid training is thereby stealing wages. Under California employment law, all time spent working for an employer, or time spent “on the job,” must be compensated. Even if the work is not considered “productive,” the employee must still be paid.

Employers often claim that employees in training are not actually working, and therefore they should not be paid. Sometimes they might schedule training to be after work in order to make it seem less work-related. It’s also possible they might dock an employee’s daily pay while the employee undergoes training. All the above situations are a violation of employee rights.

Mandatory Training Must Be Paid

It is legal for employers to offer career development or training courses. If the courses are optional, then technically they can qualify as a perk, not work time. This is because the training is not considered necessary for job performance.

However, training that is considered mandatory for a job to be performed correctly is considered work. It should therefore be compensated.

Example: Beth is training to be a fry cook at a restaurant. When the restaurant hires her, they tell her she must undergo a weeklong training course on how to prepare food. Because the training is considered essential for Beth to do her job correctly, it qualifies as work. Therefore, Beth should get paid for her training.

Job-Related Training  Must Be Paid

An employer who requires an employee to attend training related to their work duties must pay that employee, regardless of whether the training is held during work hours or off-the-clock. An employee who practices or learns on-the-job skills must be compensated because they are officially working for the employer.

An employee who does training to improve their own skills does not need to be compensated for this training. But an employee who does required training requested by the employer must be paid.

Example: Dorian works for a graphic design company. At the start of his employment, Dorian took a mandatory course where he learned how to use the company’s software and did a sample project. For this training, he received compensation consistent with his agreed-upon pay. Six months later, Dorian learns about another training course offered by the company. He would get to learn about how to use a separate art program that he does not use for his daily job but might want to know in the future. His job does not require he do the training, but Dorian does it so that he can advance his career prospects. When he finishes the course, he asks his employer to be compensated for the two weeks he spent doing the training after-hours. His boss explains that because the training was not related to his position and not required, Dorian does not have the right to payment.

Regular or Overtime Work Hours

Regardless of whether an employer assigns an employee to train during work hours or off-the-clock, he must compensate the employee for their time. This means that if an employer tells an employee to go to a mandatory training meeting during the workday, the employee must be paid. Similarly, if an employer asks that an employee attend a training session after work, the employee must be paid overtime.

Example: Fabio manages a hair salon. He asks his employee, Saoirse, to stay after work to do a training course on cutting children’s hair. Saoirse does the training course. Fabio does not pay Saoirse because he says she did not do any actual work and was off-the-clock anyway. But because Fabio asked Saoirse to do the training, he must pay her overtime.

Training That Produces Value

Importantly, training that results in a product for the company must always be compensated. An employer cannot receive goods or services of value from unpaid training time. Many employers have gotten in trouble for not paying interviewees for labor provided during demonstrations. Employees that create something of value, which an employer then uses, have had their time stolen.

Example: Hattie is interviewing for a political think tank. During the interview process, the employer asks her to write an essay examining the economic relationship between Russia and the West. Hattie spends three days writing a well-researched essay, which she then submits to the employer. The employer ends up hiring Hattie, and he then uploads her essay onto the company blog. Hattie is thrilled until she learns that she will not be paid for those three days she spent writing the essay. Under California law, Hattie’s boss is illegally stealing her time. Because unpaid training is illegal, he must pay her for the three days of “training,” or demonstration, since she performed work of value for the company.

Have a quick question? We answered nearly 2000 FAQs.

See all blogs: Business | Corporate | Employment Law

Most recent blogs:

What is an EDD Audit?

An EDD audit is a payroll tax audit initiated when a former worker you classified as an independent contractor applies for unemployment with EDD.  The EDD thinks you misclassified the worker as an independent contractor and audits your company. 

Using PTO for Paid Vacation Time

PTO is any time an employee gets paid while away from work, including paid vacation time. PTO is paid time off, meaning a worker may use PTO for any reason, such as paid sick leave or paid vacation time.

When to hire an employment attorney?

You should hire an employment attorney as soon as you are aware of the issue or believe something is wrong and that the employer is not remedying the issue, such as harassment, wrongful termination, or discrimination.

Is PTO Required by Law?

Employers in California are not required to provide any PTO, such as paid time off or paid or unpaid vacation, to their employees.

Are 10 Minute Breaks Mandatory in California?

Employers in California are required by law to give non-exempt employees one 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked. A non-exempt employee is generally a worker who is paid by the hour and not by salary.

Is Unpaid Training Legal in California?

Yes, unpaid training is illegal in California. California employers must pay for mandatory training. Employees not paid for meetings or job training can sue for unpaid training.

Can PAGA Claims Be Arbitrated?

The U.S. Supreme Court clarified on June 15 that companies can compel arbitration of an employee's individual of an employee's individual PAGA claim, the non-individual claims should be dismissed.

Can you get fired for dating a coworker?

Most employment is generally at-will, so employers can fire an employee for dating a co-worker. However, if the co-worker you're dating was not fired, the employer firing you could be considered gender discrimination, and you can file a lawsuit.

How to report a company paying employees under the table?

A worker can report cash wage "under the table" by hiring an attorney or reporting to EDD. Before you say that the employer is paying under the table, you should ensure that it is illegal because it is not illegal if done correctly.

Can an employer take away earned PTO?

Paid Time Off or PTO cannot be taken away or forfeited when the pay accrues as earned. An employer is prohibited from taking away earned vacation time to punish you.

What Makes a Strong Retaliation Case?

The standard for proving a retaliation case requires the worker to show that the supervisor's action against the worker might deter a reasonable worker from reporting discrimination or participating in the EEOC complaint process.

Do you get paid for training at a job?

Under California employment law, employers are legally obligated to pay employees for time spent training for a job. It is illegal for employers to require employees to undergo unpaid training.

What is paid time off?

Paid time off - also known as personal time off - is when an employee takes off work while still getting paid by the employer. Likewise, personal time off is when an employee gets paid or unpaid while away from work.

What does an employment lawyer do?

An employment lawyer help employers and employees understand their respective rights and obligations, such as wages, wrongful termination, overtime, PTO, disability, discrimination, harassment, etc.

13 Wrongful Termination Examples

Employees wins millions of dollars in wrongful termination lawsuits against their employers. If an employee has been dismissed for the reason that is deemed illegal in California, then they may be able to sue their former employer for wrongful termination.

How do I know if I am exempt from overtime pay?

As of 2023, to be exempt from overtime pay, you must make at least $62,400.00 per year or $5166.66 per month. To be classified as an exempt employee, your salary must be at least twice California's minimum wage for full-time employment. 

Women’s Rights When Experiencing Sexual Harassment at Work

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) makes it illegal for employers to allow anyone to be sexually harassed at work by anyone else, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or sex. Women who experience sexual harassment at work may experience a range of negative consequences, including mental and physical health problems, lower earnings, and career interruptions.

How to respond to a notice of PAGA lawsuit?

5 steps to defend a PAGA lawsuit: 1) contact a PAGA lawyer after getting a PAGA Notice, 2) locate the arbitration agreement, if any, 3) determine if the safe harbor provision of the PAGA state applies, 4) compile a list of all employees that were similarly situated, 5) Collect the employee's manual.

What happens if you get an EDD audit?

An EDD audit is a process of verification that you have correctly withheld and reported personal income tax for wages paid to your employees. If you get an EDD audit, you may be liable for a wide range of fines, interest, and penalties on taxes that you owe.

What are the 4 Caregiver rights in California?

California caregivers are entitled to rest breaks, meal breaks, minimum wage, overtime pay for working over 8 hours per day, and double time for working over 12 hours, including overnight stays. Employers often face lawsuits from caregivers for violating caregivers’ rights, such as basic wages.

Terminating Employee with Cancer

Cancer is protected under the Disability Act, which protects an employee from retaliation and discrimination because of health impairment related to a cancer diagnosis. An employer cannot discriminate against an employee upon discovering that an employee has a severe illness or cancer.

Can I be fired for work restrictions?

No, you cannot be fired for work restriction if it is based on disability. However, an employer can fire an employee in some situations if the employee has work restrictions.

Annualized Compensation

An annualized compensation is to a predetermined gross pay per month paid to an employee for twelves months, totaling an estimated annual income.  In other words, annualized compensation - also known as annualized salary - is an estimate of how much pay an employee will earn over the course of a year if they were to work the full year. For example, teachers commonly do not work summer months and therefore need to annualized their salary for reporting taxes.

Contact our attorney.

Please tell us your story:

3 + 0 = ?