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'Retreat' usually requires staff pay.

Byline: ON THE JOB by Dan Grinfas For The Register-Guard

Question: Our staff has requested a team-building retreat at the Oregon Coast. They say they don't expect to be paid, and attendance will be voluntary. They want our organization to pay for lodging and food. Is it acceptable for us not to pay them for travel time and the day at the coast even though it is sort of work-related and we are covering some expenses? The line seems blurry, and we'd like clarification. There is one salaried, exempt manager and about six hourly employees who plan to attend.

Answer: It's likely that you'll need to pay your employees for the time at the retreat to comply with Oregon and federal wage laws, but the answer depends on several factors.

Wage and hour regulations classify employees' time under a variety of categories to determine if it constitutes "hours worked" that must be compensated. The laws include categories such as waiting time, travel time, on-call time, sleeping time, training time, and preparatory and concluding activities. Within each category, there are rules that describe when you do and when you don't have to pay an employee.

The answer to your question is in a category called "Lectures, Meetings and Training Programs." The rule states that you needn't count attendance at a meeting as work time if four criteria are met. The first requirement is that attendance must be outside of the employee's regular work hours. If it's on a weekday when they'd normally be working, the time must be paid.

The second requirement is that attendance must be voluntary. You've characterized the retreat as voluntary, but if you sponsor and publicize it and many employees attend, it might be argued that attendance is expected. Even though some of your employees requested the retreat, the regulation states that attendance isn't voluntary if an employee is given to understand or led to believe that his or her working conditions would be hurt by nonattendance.

The third requirement is that the meeting must not be directly related to the employee's job. The rule characterizes an event as directly related to an employee's job if it is designed to make the employee handle his or her job more effectively, as opposed to training the employee for another job or teaching the employee a new skill in the same job. Whether you satisfy this requirement will depend on exactly what your employees will be doing.

The fourth requirement is that the employee must not perform any productive work during the event. Since team-building sessions often involve brainstorming about work, it's likely that employees are performing productive work for you.

Unless you pass all four of these tests - and that's unlikely - you must pay for the employee's time. You'll also have to count those hours when determining if the employee has worked any overtime. Time at the retreat won't be an issue for your salaried exempt manager.

But your hourly, nonexempt employees need to be paid for all hours worked, and they must receive overtime pay if they exceed 40 hours of work in a week. If the seven-day workweek you have designated for the overtime calculation is Sunday through Saturday, and if the retreat is scheduled for a Saturday, you might decide to flex the schedule for your hourly employees to avoid having to pay overtime. You could, for example, schedule a day off for these employees on Friday so that the time spent at the Saturday retreat won't push them over 40 hours for the workweek.

If you conclude that the time at the retreat is compensable "hours worked," you might also have to pay the hourly employees for the travel time to and from the event. The answer depends on whether the trip to the coast takes employees more than 30 miles from their normal work location, whether employees will stay overnight, at what time of day they'll be traveling, and whether they are passengers in a car or driving the vehicle. See www.boli.state.or.us/technical/tatrav.html for more details on the travel time regulations.

On The Job is written by Dan Grinfas of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. Contact BOLI at (503) 731-4200, or BOLI, 800 N.E. Oregon St. No. 32, Portland, OR 97232.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 19, 2003
Words:717
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