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6th Cir.: Applying “Primary Benefit” Test, Students in Work-Study Program Were Not Employees Under FLSA
Solis v. Laurelbrook Sanitarium and School, Inc.
This case was before the Sixth Circuit on the Secretary of Labor’s appeal of the decision below, holding that the student-workers at Defendant’s sanitarium were not “employees” under the FLSA, and thus, were not entitled to the child labor protections afforded by the FLSA. Of interest here, the Sixth Circuit clarified the test to be used under circumstances where students perform work as part of a work-study program, in which they are not compensated for such work monetarily. After surveying the applicable case law, the DOL’s regulations and its interpretations of same, the court held that the applicable test was the “primary benefit” test. In other words, the issue of whether such student-workers are covered by the FLSA or not turns on whether the “employer” or they themselves derive the “primary benefit” of the work performed. Here, reviewing the specific facts of the case, the Sixth Circuit held that the trial court had properly concluded that the student-workers were non-employees, properly excluded from the coverage of the FLSA.
Describing the general factual background, the court explained:
“In conformity with its beliefs, Laurelbrook operates a boarding school for students in grades nine through twelve, an elementary school for children of staff members, and a 50–bed intermediate-care nursing home that assists in the students’ practical training (the Sanitarium). The school has been approved and accredited by the Tennessee Department of Education since the 1970s. The State of Tennessee accredits certain private schools through independent authorized accrediting agencies. The E.A. Sutherland Education Association (EASEA) is one such agency, whose purpose is to consider and adjudicate requests for accreditation from self-supporting (as opposed to denominational) schools, like Laurelbrook, which are operated by members of the Seventh–Day Adventist Church. Laurelbrook is currently accredited through EASEA.”
After surveying the applicable law and deeming the “primary benefit” test to be the proper test for determining whether the student-workers were employees, the court reasoned the student-workers here were not “employees” under the FLSA:
“In applying the primary benefit test, the district court recognized that students’ activities at Laurelbrook contribute to Laurelbrook’s maintenance, thereby benefitting Laurelbrook’s operations. Laurelbrook receives payment for services it provides to patients at the Sanitarium; some of these services are performed by students at no cost to Laurelbrook. Hours worked by students in the Sanitarium also contribute to the Sanitarium’s satisfaction of its licensing requirements. Laurelbrook sells flowers and produce grown at Laurelbrook with student help. The proceeds from these sales go directly to Laurelbrook’s operations. As part of a course on collision repair, students assist in repairing cars for the public. Beneficiaries of these services pay Laurelbrook directly and the money is recycled back into school programs. Laurelbrook also earns revenue from the sale of wood pallets the students help build.
The value of these benefits to Laurelbrook, however, is offset in various ways. The district court found that Laurelbrook students do not displace compensated workers, and instructors must spend extra time supervising the students at the expense of performing productive work. Specifically, the court found that Laurelbrook is sufficiently staffed such that if the students did not perform work at the Sanitarium, the staff members could continue to provide the same services there without interruption. And while not specifically mentioned by the district court in its findings, there was evidence at trial that the same was also true of the work performed by students outside the Sanitarium. There was also testimony that, were it not for the instructors’ supervisory responsibilities, instructors would be able to complete more productive tasks in less time. Moreover, as the district court found, Laurelbrook is not in competition with other institutions for labor, so Laurelbrook does not enjoy an unfair advantage over other institutions by reason of work performed by its students…
Students do not receive wages for duties they perform. They are not entitled to a job with Laurelbrook upon graduation, and are expected to move on after graduation.”
On the other side of the ledger are the tangible and intangible benefits that accrue to the students. The district court found that Laurelbrook provides it students with significant tangible benefits. Students are provided with hands-on training comparable to training provided in public school vocational courses, allowing them to be competitive in various vocations upon graduation. Students learn to operate tools normally used in the trades they are learning, while being supervised by instructors. Students engage in courses of study that have been considered and approved of by the state accrediting agency. In short, the educational aspect of the instruction at Laurelbrook is sound, in contrast to the training program at issue in Baptist Hospital, where the supervision was inadequate, the exposure to various aspects of the trade limited, and the overall value to the students nil. None of these educational shortcomings is present here. Indeed, the Tennessee Department of Education, through EASEA, has determined that Laurelbrook’s vocational program provides benefits to the students sufficient to warrant accreditation.
Significant, too, are the intangible benefits students receive at Laurelbrook. As the district court found, receiving a well-rounded education—one that includes hands-on, practical training—is a tenet of the Seventh–Day Adventist Church. Laurelbrook provides students with the opportunity to obtain such an education in an environment consistent with their beliefs. The district court found that the vocational training portion of the education teaches students about responsibility and the dignity of manual labor. Thought not mentioned in the district court’s opinion, there is ample evidentiary support for these findings. Parents testified to the benefits their children received from the program, stating that the students learn the importance of working hard and seeing a task through to completion. Some parents testified that their children have become more responsible and have taken on leadership roles since participating in Laurelbrook’s program. Service in the Sanitarium engenders sensitivity and respect for the elderly and infirm. Laurelbrook alumni testified that the leadership skills and work ethic developed at Laurelbrook have proved highly valuable in their future endeavors. Employers also testified that Laurelbrook alumni have a strong work ethic, leadership skills, and other practical skills that graduates of other vocational programs lack.
The Secretary discounts the value of these intangible benefits, but we agree with the district court that they are of significant value. Courts that have addressed the value of such benefits have likewise concluded that they are significant enough to tip the scale of primary benefit in the students’ favor even where the school receives tangible benefits from the students’ activities. See, e.g., Blair, 420 F.3d at 829; Woods, 400 F.Supp.2d at 1166; Bobilin, 403 F.Supp. at 1108. The overall value of broad educational benefits should not be discounted simply because they are intangible.
After considering all of the evidence, the district court found that there is benefit to Laurelbrook’s operations from the students’ activities, but the primary benefit of the program runs to the students. We find no error in the district court’s application of the primary benefit test.”
Click Solis v. Laurelbrook Sanitarium & School to read the entire opinion.
D.Md.: Training Time Outside Of Regular Work Hours Not Compensable, Because It Was Primarily For The Benefit Of The Employees Not The Employer
Carter v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore City
Before the Court was Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. This was the second such Motion, because the Court had denied the prior application with leave to further establish the factual record. Plaintiffs claimed that they were entitled to be paid for certain time spent training in Defendants’ CRT Apprentice program outside of their regular workweek. The Court disagreed, granting Defendants’ Motion. As discussed below, the Court reasoned that since the primary benefit of the training was to the Plaintiffs, such time spent training was not compensable under the FLSA or Portal-to-Portal Act.
Discussing the facts pertinent to its inquiry the Court explained:
“Plaintiffs are current or former apprentices in a Baltimore City Fire Department (BCFD) three-year Firefighter/Paramedic Apprenticeship Program. Plaintiffs allege that as part of their apprenticeship they were required to attend class and perform on-the-job practical training on an ambulance and in the hospital without compensation in violation of the FLSA.
It is undisputed that one of the duties of a Firefighter/Paramedic is to provide emergency medical care, including Advanced Life Support. In order to provide Advanced Life Support, Maryland state law requires licensure as a Cardiac Rescue Technician (CRT). Md.Code Regs. 30.01.01.20. State law designates the State Emergency Medical Services Board (EMS Board) to approve CRT courses, conduct examinations, and issue CRT licenses. Md.Code Ann., Educ. § 13-516(a)(2) [a portion of the facts is excluded here]…
The Fire Department required remedial training for apprentices when they failed the required national registry EMT test or any of the exams during the CRT-I course. In addition, if students failed the National Registry exam three times, the National Registry required the students to take a 48 hour review before it would allow them to re-take the exam.
The Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems issued regulations governing the content of ALS education programs. Md.Code Regs. 30.04.02.01 et seq. In addition to classroom training, ALS students must also complete a supervised clinical experience, which includes the practice of skills within clinical education facilities, and a supervised field internship, which includes the practice of skills while functioning in a prehospital ALS environment. Id. 30.04.02.05. During the clinical and field training, the MIEMSS regulations require that the student is supervised by clinical and field preceptors. Id. 30.04.02.06. In the field portion of the training, the ratio of students to preceptors must be one to one. Id. 30.04.02.06(F)(2).
Upon entering the fire academy, the apprentices signed an Apprenticeship Agreement in which they agreed to the terms of the Apprenticeship Standards filed with the Maryland Apprenticeship and Training Council. The Standards include a requirement that apprentices will complete a minimum of 144 hours per year of related instruction and that these hours will not be considered as hours worked when given outside regular working hours. In addition to the CRT-I course, apprentices were required to undergo enhanced training, including courses in pump operations, aerial operations, hazmat tech, arson awareness/sprinkler, and rescue technician.
During the second portion of the apprentices’ training, they worked an eight day cycle, with 4 days on and 4 days off. Training to obtain their CRT licensure was sometimes scheduled on the apprentices’ days off. Apprentices were not compensated during the off-duty training times. Plaintiffs contend that they should have been compensated for this off-duty training time under the FLSA.”
Discussing the relevant law and concluding that Plaintiffs’ after-hours training was not compensable under the FLSA, the Court stated:
“Plaintiffs allege that the City violated this provision by refusing to pay them overtime for the hours spent in training outside their regular workweek.
Cases analyzing whether training mandated by employers or potential employers should be compensable as hours worked include cases in which the potential employer requires the completion of training before an individual may be hired and cases in which the individual is an apprentice or already an employee and required to complete training as part of the apprenticeship or as an agreed upon condition to hiring. The seminal cases relating to training and the FLSA are the companion cases, Walling v. Portland Terminal Co., 330 U.S. 148 (1947) and Walling v. Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Ry., 330 U.S. 158 (1947). In Portland Terminal, the defendant railroad had required the completion of a course of practical training before individuals could be hired as prospective yard brakemen. 330 U.S. at 149. The course involved a progressive increase in the trainees’ ability to act as a brakeman beginning with observing routine activities through gradually conducting the actual work of a brakeman under close scrutiny. Id. The Supreme Court noted that the activities of the trainee did not displace any of the regular employees, who were required to supervise any actual work done by the trainees, and did not expedite the company business, but may at times have impeded it. Id. at 149-50. Once certified as competent, the individuals who completed the training comprised a pool of qualified workmen available to the railroad when needed. Id. at 150. The Supreme Court focused on whether the trainees were to be considered employees and thus protected by the FLSA. Id. The FLSA defines employ as “to suffer or permit to work.” Id. at 152; 29 U.S.C. § 203(g). Despite the broad definition, the Supreme Court held that it could not “be interpreted so as to make a person whose work serves only his own interest an employee of another person who gives him aid and instruction.” Portland Terminal, 330 U.S. at 152. The Court compared the training at issue to courses in railroading in a public or private vocational school, in which “it could not be reasonably suggested that [the students] were employees of the railroad merely because the school’s graduates would constitute a labor pool for the railroad.” Id. at 152-53. Thus, the Court held that when the railroads received no “immediate advantage” from the work done by the trainees, the trainees were not employees under the FLSA. Id. at 153.
In analyzing Portland Terminal, the Fourth Circuit has concluded that the general test used to determine if an employee is entitled to the protections of the Act is “whether the employee or the employer is the primary beneficiary of the trainees’ labor.” McLaughlin v. Ensley, 877 F.2d 1207, 1209 (4th Cir.1989). In McLaughlin, the defendant owned a snack foods distribution business in which he required new hires to spend five days travelling an ordinary route with an experienced routeman as training before they were hired. 877 F.2d at 1208. The trainees loaded and unloaded the delivery truck, restocked stores with the defendants products, were given instruction on how to drive the trucks, were introduced to retailers, were taught basic snack food vending maintenance, and occasionally helped in preparing orders of goods with financial exchanges. Id. The court found that, unlike in Portland Terminal, the prospective employees were simply helping to service a route, and the instruction they received did not rise to the level that one would receive in a general, vocational course in outside salesmanship. Id. at 1210. Instead, the court found that the trainees were taught only simple, specific job functions related to the defendant’s business. Id. For those reasons, the court concluded that the trainees were entitled to be considered covered employees under the FLSA. Id. Compare Reich v. Parker Fire Protection District, 992 F.2d 1023 (10th Cir.1993) (holding that firefighter trainees were not employees because they obtained training comparable to a vocational school and the defendant was not immediately benefited by the trainees’ activities as their training activities were supervised and they did not assume the duties of career firefighters; the benefit to the defendant from the plaintiffs’ supervised training activities was de minimis ).
Where trainees are already employees, the Courts look also to the Portal-to-Portal Act, which provides that an employer need not pay an employee for activities that are “preliminary or postliminary” to the principal activity or activities the employee is employed to perform. 29 U.S.C. § 254(a)(2). The Supreme Court has interpreted the mandate of the Portal-to-Portal Act to mean “that activities performed either before or after the regular work shift, on or off the production line, are compensable … if those activities are an integral and indispensable part of the principal activities for which covered workmen are employed.” Steiner v. Mitchell, 350 U.S. 247, 256 (1956).
The most oft-cited case applying the “preliminary or postliminary” test to training activities is Ballou v. General Electric Co. 433 F.2d 109 (1st Cir.1970). In Ballou, the First Circuit held that the classroom training required of the defendant’s apprentices taking place outside of working hours was neither integral nor indispensable to the apprentices’ principal activity, which was the work that took place during their regular 40 hour work-training week. Id. at 112. The court looked to Portland Terminal and found that if the defendant had not employed the appellants as workers, but provided only training programs that they were required to complete successfully before they could be employed as journeymen, the apprentices would be entitled to no compensation. Id. Thus, the court concluded that “the employer’s decision to hire its employees before the completion of training did not obligate it to compensate them for the time spent in their status as students after their hiring.” Bienkowski v. Northeastern Univ., 285 F.3d 138, 141 (1st Cir.2002) (citing Ballou, 433 F.2d at 112).Accord Chao v. Tradesman Int’l, Inc., 310 F.3d 904, 910 (6th Cir.2002) (“Therefore, we agree with the First Circuit that the defendant employer should not be made liable for overtime pay for time its employees spend as students, rather than as workers…. We do not see why the employer should be penalized for allowing a potential employee to begin earning income while striving to meet certain prerequisites for the job when the employer could just as easily withhold employment until successful completion of all the job requirements.”).
In Bienkowski, the First Circuit applied its analysis in Ballou to facts similar to the facts found here. 285 F.3d at 141. In Bienkowski, the defendant hired the plaintiffs as probationary police officers with a requirement that they receive and retain certification as Massachusetts-registered EMTs within one year of their appointment. Id. at 139. At the time of hire, the plaintiffs signed a letter acknowledging the requirement. Id. The training, as required pursuant to Massachusetts statutes, regulations, and Department of Public Health standards, required approximately 110 hours of classroom work, as well as 10 hours of in-hospital evaluation time, practical exams, and written exams. Id. Although the plaintiffs could have taken the EMT courses at various locations throughout Massachusetts, they chose to take the course at Northeastern, where they were entitled to tuition reimbursement. Id. For the most part, the course requirements took place outside of the plaintiffs’ working hours. Id. at 140. Prior to receiving their certification, the plaintiffs were prohibited from performing EMT work, but following their certification, they regularly used their skills on the job. Id. The Court held that it would not hold the defendant “liable for overtime pay for time its employees spend as students, rather than as workers, simply because [the defendant] decided to hire its employees on a probationary basis until they complete the training required to hold the job on a permanent basis.” Id. at 141.
Defendants have articulated and Plaintiffs have not disagreed that the classes and on-the-job training required of the apprentices can be broken down into four categories: 1) initial classroom training to obtain CRT licensure; 2) classroom enhanced training; 3) clinical training with an ambulance medic team and in the hospital to obtain CRT licensure; and 4) mandatory repeat classroom training to obtain CRT licensure when a student has failed any of the required exams. Under either the “primary beneficiary” test of McLaughlin or the “integral and indispensable part of the principal activities” test of Steiner, the hours spent in all four categories of training are not compensable as hours worked under the FLSA.
All of the classroom and practical training required to obtain the CRT license, the classroom enhanced training, and the repeat classroom training are no different than that found in Portland Terminal, Ballou, and Bienkowski. Plaintiffs are apprentices in an apprenticeship program approved by the Department of Labor and as part of that program were required to take the CRT Training, which required both classroom and clinical training. As the CRT license was required in order for Plaintiffs to conduct their duties as firefighters/paramedics, the City could have required the Plaintiffs to obtain the license before hiring them. In fact, similar training is provided at Baltimore City Community College and Community College of Baltimore County. Instead the city allowed Plaintiffs to obtain the license while they were concurrently employed by the city, and funded the training. Although the City ultimately benefitted from Plaintiffs obtaining the CRT license in that it then had a pool of employees certified to conduct ALS, Plaintiffs obtained a license fully transferrable to their employment with any other employer that required the ability to provide Advanced Life Support. Thus, as in Portland Terminal and unlike in McLaughlin, Plaintiffs were the primary beneficiaries of the training. Moreover, as Plaintiffs were not able to perform any of the ALS duties until they obtained their license, as in Bienkowski the training was not an integral and indispensable part of their paid work duties during the period of their training.
This Court’s holding is supported by Department of labor regulations interpreting the FLSA that exclude from the computation of “hours worked” the time spent in certain kinds of training. One such regulation is found at 29 C.F.R. § 553.226(b).
(b) While time spent in attending training required by an employer is normally considered compensable hours of work, following are situations where time spent by employees of State and local governments in required training is considered to be noncompensable:
(1) Attendance outside of regular working hours at specialized or follow-up training, which is required by law for certification of public and private sector employees within a particular governmental jurisdiction (e.g., certification of public and private emergency rescue workers), does not constitute compensable hours of work for public employees within that jurisdiction and subordinate jurisdictions.
(2) Attendance outside of regular working hours at specialized or follow-up training, which is required for certification of employees of a governmental jurisdiction by law of a higher level of government (e.g., where a State or county law imposes a training obligation on city employees), does not constitute compensable hours of work.
(3) Time spent in the training described in paragraphs (b)(1) or (2) of this section is not compensable, even if all or part of the costs of the training is borne by the employer.
A 1999 Department of Labor Opinion letter applies this regulation to facts identical to those found here.
Q.1. As a condition of employment, firefighters for County A must have current EMT (emergency medical training) certification. Although this certification is granted through the state, the state does not require the fire fighters have the certification. However, since City A requires it, the training is not “voluntary.” Under these circumstances, must the EMT training that is required to maintain this certification be counted as hours worked if the training takes place during non-working hours?
A.1. No. While time spent in attending training required by an employer is normally considered compensable hours of work, attendance outside of regular working hours at specialized or follow-up training which is required by law for certification of employees of a governmental jurisdiction, does not constitute hours of work under the FLSA. See Section 553.226 of Regulations, 29 CFR Part 553. Sept. 30, 1999, Dept. of Labor Op. Letter, 1999 WL 1788163.
In addition, the Department of Labor has issued a regulation as to apprenticeship training.
[T]ime spent in an organized program of related, supplemental instruction by employees working under bona fide apprenticeship programs may be excluded from working time if…. (b) such time does not involve productive work or the performance of the apprentice’s regular duties. If the above criteria are met the time spent in such related instruction shall not be counted as hours worked unless the written agreement specifically provides that it is hours worked. The mere payment or agreement to pay for time spent in related instruction does not constitute an agreement that it is hours worked. 29 C.F.R. § 785.32.
Plaintiffs do not contest that the initial CRT training and the enhanced training are not compensable under these regulations. They argue, however, that although the clinical training is a required component of the CRT-I course, it was compensable time because it was productive work and constituted performance of their regular duties. The undisputed evidence shows that a regular medic unit is staffed by two individuals, which could be two ALS providers or an ALS provider and a BLS provider. When Plaintiffs were assigned to a medic unit as part of their training, there was always an ALS provider and another BLS provider; the trainee would then be a third person on the team. Plaintiffs state in their opposition that “[i]n the experience of many Plaintiffs, under the guise of ‘training,’ only one person, the [ALS] preceptor-was paid. Therefore, a paid position on the medic unit was eliminated during the training, as the Defendants filled it with two unpaid apprentices.” Opp. at 8.
Contrary to Plaintiffs’ statements in their opposition, however, neither of the provided affidavits establishes that unpaid trainees replaced a paid BLS provider. Moreover, they have not established that any benefit the City may have received from the trainee’s presence is anything more than de minimis or that it outweighed the benefit to the trainee in completing a required component of the CRT training. One affiant testified that the other BLS provider was paid and drove the ambulance while he, as the trainee, sat in the back of the ambulance. Stoakley Aff. ¶ 4. Notably, the second affiant said nothing regarding whether the other BLS provider was paid and said nothing about whether he ever drove the ambulance while he was on a training run. Bonovich Aff. ¶ 4. Thus, Plaintiffs have provided no reason to believe that when they were conducting training runs they were not able to work with the ALS provider in a training capacity for the entire period.
Similarly, the time spent by the trainees in the hospital was also a required component of the CRT training. Plaintiffs’ affidavits confirm that all of the Plaintiffs’ activities in the hospital were supervised. They have not shown, however, that their activities were part of their regular duties or any more productive than the supervised work done by trainees in Portland Terminal. Thus, the clinical training does not constitute compensable hours worked under the FLSA and the Portal-to-Portal Act.
Plaintiffs also argue that the duplicative classroom training, required when Plaintiffs did not pass certain examinations required for the EMT-I certification, is compensable as hours worked because it was neither a part of the approved apprenticeship program nor a legal requirement. While the apprentice standards may have simply required the CRT-I course, it is logical to conclude that the apprentices were expected to successfully complete the course and obtain their CRT license. If an apprentice fails the course and must repeat it in order to satisfy the requirements to obtain the CRT license, it is hard to imagine how this is any different than the initial requirement to attend the course. Moreover, it seems perverse logic to say that the initial training is not compensable, but if an apprentice fails the training, it then becomes compensable. Finally, the Court sees no immediate benefit to the Defendants from Plaintiffs taking remedial courses since it delayed the time that Plaintiffs could conduct ALS duties. Thus, the Court sees no difference in the initial requirement to attend the CRT course and the requirement to take duplicative training when the student fails the required exams.”
Having determined that the training time at issue was not compensable, the Court granted Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment.
W.D.Wash.: Flight Attendants Not Entitled To Compensation For Training Time Which Was For Their Benefit
Ulrich v. Alaska Airlines, Inc.
The parties agreed to the applicability of and the Court applied, the six-factor test adopted by the Department of Labor in several Opinion letters, to determine whether trainees are employees under the FLSA.
The six factors which must be met in order for the trainees not to be employees are:
1) the training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school;
2) the training is for the benefit of the trainees;
3) the trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation;
4) the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees; and on occasions his operations may actually be impeded;
5) the trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the completion of the training period; and
6) the employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent training.
The Court granted Alaska summary judgment, finding that Alaska’s training program meets all six requirements of the six-factor Department of Labor test. The Court therefore followed the American Airlines and TWA cases from the Fifth and Eighth Circuit Courts of Appeals in ruling that the flight attendant training program conducted by Alaska Airlines does not constitute compensable “work” under the FLSA. Additionally the Court held that the training time does it constitute work within California for which compensation is due under California labor law.