Your employer can require you attend a safety-training class, even if it's outside regular work hours. She can do the same with other kinds of training, such as a mandatory sexual harassment course. If attending the class is mandatory, though, the employer can't require you go and not pay you, whether it's during work hours or evenings.
When you take safety training or a similar class, your employer can argue you're not actually working at the job she hired you for. If the class is mandatory, though, then it counts as work time. A class can be mandatory even if the employer says otherwise. For example, your boss may tell you she's not ordering you to take the class, but that skipping it will hurt your chance of staying employed. Then the class is not optional.
If the class is mandatory, you're on the clock when you take the class, and for any travel time between work and the class location. If you earn overtime and your class puts you over 40 hours a week, you're entitled to overtime pay. Your employer doesn't have to pay you if the class is on your time, genuinely voluntary and the training isn't related to your job. This exception doesn't apply if you're doing productive work for your employer during the class.
It may be that taking a class in safety or project management, say, offers advantages at work, such as qualifying you for a promotion or a higher salary. That doesn't make it mandatory, so your employer doesn't have to pay you. If you're an apprentice rather than a full employee, training time that doesn't involve work can be unpaid time, depending on the terms of the apprentice agreement. If the job requires you get certification – such as a state license – your employer might not have to pay you for time spent in certification classes.
Any education you pay for that improves your professional skills is a potential tax deduction. If you pay for a class, you can claim it as an itemized 2 percent deduction. You add together all such deductions – listed in IRS Publication 529 – and subtract 2 percent of your adjusted gross income to get the total write-off. The deduction includes the cost of driving to class.
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- U.S. Department of Labor: FLSA Hours Worked Advisor
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- Internal Revenue Service: Business Deduction for Work-Related Education
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