Is it legal to be asked to train without pay at a new job?
February 28, 2020 4:55 AM   Subscribe

Is it legal for a prospective employer to ask me to train without pay?

I work in a skilled labor position. Most of my work is done as a part-time, hourly, W-2 employee in the states of NY, NJ, and CT. A potential employer has asked me to train for a new job on my own time, without pay. Is this legal? How would you handle it?
posted by soy_renfield to Work & Money (12 answers total)
I don’t think so. I wouldn’t do it.
posted by jzb at 5:15 AM on February 28, 2020

It is not legal!
posted by capricorn at 5:18 AM on February 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: There's an Ask a Manager post that addresses a similar situation and her conclusion was that it's "nearly always illegal" to do this.
posted by terretu at 5:36 AM on February 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

I think if they’re asking you to train specifically for this job (especially if it’s on their premises), that’s a big no, but if they’re saying, “We would like to hire you but only if you have X certification or Y skill before you start”, that’s less likely to be illegal. Still a potential red flag, though.
posted by mskyle at 6:07 AM on February 28, 2020 [14 favorites]

In the U.S., it's not legal for an employer to suffer or permit a person to do work for the employer's benefit without pay. If they are asking you to do training that would not constitute work that's fine. So it's a question of whether or not what you'd be doing constitutes work. That's not always an easy call but often it is. On-the-job training would typically be work, at least the kind I'm familiar with. Asking you to spend a few days shadowing other employees and doing a paired-down version of what your job would be to see if you're a good fit would be work. Taking their training manual home and learning all their policies and procedures would most likely be work. Studying at home to learn a new skill that they require employees to know would probably not be work, but it could be.
posted by skewed at 6:35 AM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Whatever state the employment is in, contact the Dept. Of Labor, they'll be on the state's web site. They can give you the most accurate answer.
posted by theora55 at 6:45 AM on February 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Not in the US, it's not.
posted by juniperesque at 7:00 AM on February 28, 2020

If they're not willing to pay you for showing up, what else are they not going to want to pay you for?
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 7:32 AM on February 28, 2020 [6 favorites]

I don't know if it is legal or not, but one thing that I know will not work is you telling them that it is illegal (whether it is or not) if you still want them to hire you. If you want/need the job, you are going to have to suck it up, but it is certainly a sketchy practice (even if it is legal) and does not demonstrate respect for their employees, so I would consider it a huge red flag and go into the position with a cautious mindset.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:56 AM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is an unusual and extremely exploitive ask.
posted by latkes at 9:13 AM on February 28, 2020

Saying, "we won't hire you until you have this certificate; here's the training course we recommend" is legal. Saying, "do this training through our company site/on our premises during working hours" is not.

Are they calling you an employee during the training? They almost certainly need to pay you. Are they saying "you'll be considered an employee after you finish the training?" - In that case, you are just not yet employed by them; keep looking for a job.

If they expect you to show up at a particular time and place, in order to do tasks that benefit their business, they have to pay you, even if those tasks don't directly bring them profit. Most current "unpaid internships" would be illegal if investigated.

If you need the job and don't want to mention the illegality of the unpaid training, you may consider just keeping meticulous records and filing a lawsuit for those wages later. But that's always iffy, especially since they'll try to claim that your agreement means they didn't have to pay you. It doesn't, but it is one of the relevant factors for some kinds of training.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:29 PM on February 28, 2020

Unpaid labour of any sort? Who cares if it is unpaid; if it isn't for a volunteer org; No Way.
posted by Afghan Stan at 7:11 PM on February 28, 2020

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