What Are Your Rights When Continuing Education While Working?

As you go through your working life, it’s only natural to be more interested in how you can prove your skills and grow with your company. One way to accomplish these dreams is to return to school or otherwise continue your education to gain the skills to succeed.

If the education you plan to pursue will also help the company, then they’re usually on board, but the question remains: what are your rights in this situation, and when should you be paid? Today, we’ll dive deeper into this issue and provide more clarity so you can do what’s right for your career.

Continuing Education Can Benefit Everyone

Management and company owners know that continued education is necessary to grow their enterprise and fill the skills gap that can develop when processes and workflows evolve and your staff needs to evolve with them.

Employees need to read the corporate handbook for the details, but there’s a chance your employer has a tuition reimbursement program you can take advantage of to grow to new positions within the company. The company may provide classes and training, or you may attend a university to learn your new skills. In either case, if you’re taking classes that will ultimately benefit your organization or a course to maintain a license relating to your position, they’ll likely support you.

If you’re interested in continued education so you can grow into a new position at the company, there are many helpful avenues you can take. For instance, if you work in data entry but want to tackle a new position in the accounting team, you might take accounting classes.

Some folks take classes because they want to move into a management role. Consider looking into classes that teach new leadership styles that will separate you from the pack. One newer type is called transformational leadership. It’s about evolving past simply giving out orders and instead raising your employees to a higher level of motivation. This might include acting as more of a mentor who shows individual employees how to raise their own personal bar, or you might inspire your team to find new, inventive ways to reach their goals. You can learn about these skills and more through continuing education.

Navigating the Murky Waters

Many employees wonder if they should be compensated for professional training. Even if your employer has a tuition reimbursement program, the next question is whether or not the employer will continue to pay you your salary if you take the classes while you’re on the clock. According to the Department of Labor (DOL), time spent fulfilling continued education requirements must be compensated under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Even with that said, every scenario can be different. So, the issue is not so black and white. There was a bit of clarity back in 2020 when the Department of Labor sent a letter outlining different scenarios and how a company should move forward regarding continued education and compensation.

Here are a couple of the many scenarios that you and your employer may come across and how the DOL recommends they be handled:

  1. Let’s say that your employer pays for and approves of your request to take classes, and they say that you can take your courses during your work time or off the clock. If you decide to take the classes off the clock, the DOL says the company would not need to pay you for your time because they gave you the option to take them at work.
  1. In another scenario, your company may approve that you can take a webinar that’s related to your job, although it may not have a continuing education component. Does the company have to pay you? According to the DOL, since the webinar does relate to your job, it should be paid time.

These are just a couple of situations you may find yourself in when continuing your education at work. The point is that you should always talk to management or refer to the corporate policy so you know what to expect.

There may also be a situation where pursuing continuing education is necessary to maintain a license or certification so you can stay employed. In that case, you may also be eligible for reimbursement, but you should still speak to management or HR first.

Success When Combining School and Work

Regardless of whether you’re reimbursed or not, you need to properly balance your time while continuing your education and working your full-time job. You’ll need to have a strategy going in. If you’re trying to take classes at a university and can’t take them during working hours, consider going to an online university so you can take classes on nights, weekends, or wherever you have time. You’ll still get the same degree as the folks who go in person.

Whether you’re taking a single class or studying for the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), you also need to learn how to effectively study whenever you get the chance.

Set a weekly study schedule where you purposely take time to read a book chapter, complete a homework assignment, or prepare a certain outline. You must also be realistic about how much time you need to study and don’t rush. If you really want to get it right then don’t be too hard on yourself. Be generous with the time it takes to prepare so you can ace the test and get the desired certification. In the end, it’s essential to realize that every company is different, and some may be fully behind your desire for continued education while others may have more red tape. If you really want to improve, read the policy and the employee handbook and do what’s right for your career.

Feature image by Unsplash

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