THE QUESTION OF WHETHER YOU PAY staff travel time to get to and return from a training course can be a tricky one. There isn’t a single legal answer and it depends on the circumstances, the time involved, and the location.
In the vast majority of cases, salon owners realise both product and skills-based training are essential. Therefore, staff are paid to go and usually get travel expenses too.
However, there is usually a clause in the contract requiring the employee to remain in post for a certain period of time after the training or, if they leave, to repay the costs, including travel and accommodation.
Some have a sliding scale. For example, if the employee leaves within 12 months of completion they reimburse 100%, if they leave between 12 to 15 months afterwards it’s 50% of the costs, and so on. This must be clearly detailed in the employee’s contract, stating that you can recover the money from their final pay.
But what about the time therapists spend getting to their training? If it is residential, it might even involve them travelling up the night before on their day off.
You could offer training but indicate that it is unpaid and takes place on the employee’s day off. This would mean it becomes voluntary, which isn’t a viable situation for most salons.
A more common option is that the employee is paid. But do you just give a normal day’s pay? Do you pay them for the hours they spend away from home including travel time? Do you pay their petrol money or mileage (HMRC recommends 45p per mile) or the equivalent rail fare?
Many salon owners agree the employee will receive a normal day’s pay. Some pay for the duration of the day from setting off to getting home, in which case you may want to deduct the time the therapist would otherwise have spent getting to and from work.
It’s easy to see the benefit of having a clearly written set of rules in your staff handbook but even then you probably won’t cover every situation. For example, if you need a therapist to travel 100 miles for two days’ product training then their usual eight-hour working day suddenly becomes an 11-hour day. You might agree to pay either a hotel overnight or two days’ travel but you must then decide whether to pay the extra time at the employees’ normal hourly rate, give time off in lieu or just give a day’s pay for a training day.
As far as the Government Working Time Directive is concerned, if staff don’t work in a salon but instead visit clients at home or in a hotel, then their first journey to a client and their trip home after the last client is deemed to be working time.
For the purposes of the NMW, time spent travelling to and from work is specifically excluded but a one-off training course isn’t considered travelling to work, it’s travelling to train, and this is where it becomes a problem.
The minimum wage issue
I have a salon owner client who fell foul of a national minimum wage (NMW) inspection because she hadn’t paid her staff travel time for a course. She was advised by the NMW inspectors that if it was a two-day course requiring an overnight stay then payment should end when they arrived at the hotel rather than when they finished the course. You can see the issue – travel to training might not usually be defined as work but it is counted when assessing the NMW.
There are practical difficulties though. You need to be clear when the therapist set off for the training and when they arrived. Logically you would deduct the time they would otherwise have spent travelling to the salon. For example, if their normal journey to work is 30 minutes but it’s 90 minutes to the course venue then the excess is 60 minutes.
If an employee receives the minimum wage and a course is defined as “work”, then it is advisable to pay them travel time to and from it. If you don’t and you are subject to a NMW inspection, non-payment for the travel time could mean you slip under the minimum rates and run the risk of being fined and even named and shamed.
Remember, the NMW is assessed for a defined pay period – for example a week or a month – depending on how often you pay staff.
Legally, apprentices should be paid for their training day. Typically, that is a day at college but if, for example, they need to attend an evening event or additional session at college to attain their qualification then for minimum wage purposes this is paid time.
Apart from the NMW and apprentices, there isn’t a legal requirement to pay for staff to travel to events. Therefore, when an employee is paid a salary or an hourly rate significantly more than the NMW there is less reason to pay travel time.
In reality, the decision goes back to the contract of employment. Most employers want simplicity, not a two-tier system where some are paid and some are not, so it still seems sensible to have a written agreement for all staff and probably pay for travel time.
However, this must be carefully worded and cover the issues I have highlighted. Equally, we shouldn’t forget the other side of the coin. If a training session isn’t a full day or finishes early it’s reasonable to require the employee to return to work or make up the hours another day.PB
David Wright is a consultant in all aspects of employment practice and law. He is the main employment law consultant for Habia and provides a personalised support service for UK salons.
Tel: 01302 563691