Federal Training Requirements

Most employers understand that good employee training is essential for an organization’s success. A wide variety of training platforms and media are utilized by employers. Training topics may include general skills such as literacy, technical skills, orientation about the organization, and programs designed to prevent legal problems, such as sexual harassment training and ethics training. Training programs must not discriminate, and time spent in training may be compensable. Federal law requires training in many health and safety related areas. The federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funds numerous job skill training programs that are coordinated through individual states.


Why Offer Training?

Employee training was once considered an optional benefit, an “extra” that only the most forward-looking employers provided to the most promising employees. Even now, when the economy turns downward, employee training is often the first to go, viewed not as an investment but as an expense to be disposed of in tough times. But today more and more employers understand that, far from being a frill, good employee training is necessary to a company’s success and that an intelligent, well-trained workforce is central to worker productivity and well-being. In fact, more than 70 percent of employers provided some sort of job training for their employees, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey.

The survey also found that employers with high employee turnover train less and spend less on training than other businesses. While it is unclear which comes first, the probable inference is that training is linked to long-term employment and is an important factor in successful performance, productivity, and morale.

Types of Training

Employers offer training in sales, customer relations, various work skills, management skills, computer skills, new technology, production methods, safety and health, hazardous chemical exposure prevention and treatment, communication skills, workplace law, sexual harassment, ethics, and diversity, according to the BLS survey. Large companies often have on-site training departments; medium and small companies may hire consultants, or send their employees to training courses or community colleges. Both large and small employers often use on-line training, or software programs.

Although most managers say they still prefer traditional face-to-face training methods, there is strong growth in the computer-based training industry. More economical in both time and money than conventional training, computer training appears to be the wave of the future. Computer-based training may be interactive and can take place at a trainee’s own pace and convenience. Training programs are offered on CD-ROM, and on the Web as well, and cover every sort of skill or discipline.


Because orientation is generally the employee’s first introduction to the organization, it is important to do it well. Properly introducing and assimilating new employees into the company will have a real effect on the kind of job they do in the future. Orientation training generally should not be done all at once and on the employee’s first day of work, but should happen over a period of weeks, or even months as part of the worker’s progress to maximum productivity, and to provide an ongoing check on the person’s absorption into the workplace.

Employers, supervisors, and human resources professionals should assess the orientation training in terms of its effect on the individual worker: Does the worker understand and feel comfortable with the culture of the company? Does he or she know all about the benefits the company provides? Does he or she understand the primary responsibilities of his or her job? The impressions a new worker forms during the first weeks on the job have a significant impact on long-range performance as well as job satisfaction, and may mean the difference between an employee who succeeds and one who fails. Orientation is where most of these first impressions are formed.


Today’s workers, from salespeople to factory workers to managers, need far more education and training than did their predecessors simply to maintain their jobs today, and handle the expanded duties they may have tomorrow. Experts recommend that businesses seek partnerships with local and state high schools, technical schools, community colleges, and government agencies, to enhance basic educational skills (e.g., math calculations, good writing skills). Employers can set up school-to-work programs, apprenticeships, or mentorships for new employees and for adults seeking to strengthen or redirect their work skills. Beyond this, employers can develop specific skill training tailored to their own workplaces, to teach employees how the job is done, how the particular employer wants the job to be done, and how the job is likely to be done in the future.


The U.S. Department of Education estimates that one in eight of our nation’s workers reads below the fourth grade level. Poor basic skills in the workforce also include an inability to deal with numbers–this, at a time when complex technology and international competition require ever more sophisticated manuals, statistical applications, and communication techniques. However, there are a few relatively inexpensive and effective steps employers can take to address this problem:

Test employees for job-related literacy and math skills. Many people become quite adept at hiding the fact that they can’t read, write, or handle numbers. If you have good employees with this problem, consider sending them to one of the many literacy or math programs run by local schools or community colleges.

Form a partnership with a local school. Thousands of employers nationwide have made arrangements with schools in their communities, in which the employer provides the school with management expertise and exposure to the business environment. In turn, the school provides educational help to your workforce.

Sexual Harassment

The Supreme Court recently ruled that employers may be held liable for sexual harassment if they did not exercise reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any such behavior in the workplace–even if they were not aware of the specific actions in question. The decision highlights the great importance of sexual harassment training. With the increased costs of litigation and the many large jury verdicts, training programs are a relatively small, but absolutely critical investment. Effective sexual harassment training must involve all managers (to the highest level), supervisors, and rank-and-file employees.

Training should not be a one-time event, but must be repeated for all new employees, and held at least annually for all employees. It should inform employees what sexual harassment consists of, and what the legal standards for liability are, and instruct employees at all levels about the mechanisms and procedures in place for immediate reporting of infractions. In addition, because the burden is on employers to correct sexually harassing behavior, special consideration should be given to training those responsible for investigating such behavior when it is brought to their attention.


Diversity training refers to an employer’s attempt, through training programs, to create a workforce where employees of both genders and all ages, ethnic groups, races, and religions, as well as those with disabilities are represented at every level throughout the company and are able to work harmoniously. It is about acceptance of others based upon their contribution to the workplace, and their capacities as human beings. Diversity programs are critical to an organization, but they must be extremely well done to be effective. Often, outside consultants offer diversity training in combination with sexual harassment training.


As a growing number of American businesses become global organizations, more employers are sending employees to foreign countries for a short duration, or a long stay. The kind of training provided these employees might make the difference between success and failure for these businesses. Today, training companies, private consultants, and most universities and colleges offer cross-cultural training programs. Such programs are generally country- or at least region-specific, and usually feature communication skills, social attitudes, religious mores, gender roles, and much more. Training should not be confined to the new culture itself, but cover the ways in which that culture may differ from American culture–in its approach to punctuality, for example, or to conflict resolution, or selling techniques, or to the meaning of a gesture. Employers may find this sort of training invaluable, even for their stay-at-home employees as a growing number of workers interact with employees from around the globe.


Apprenticeships are on-the-job training programs involving a “learner” engaged in classroom instruction or education, and also working under the guidance of an experienced member of the profession, trade, or craft. Apprenticeships are generally a function of private sector employers, unions, or trade groups, but often receive technical assistance or supervision from federal and state agencies. They usually take from 3 to 5 years and wages are generally progressive, increasing by agreed-upon increments as greater competence is acquired.

Adult Learning

Most adults are self-directed learners; they want to learn what they want, when they want, and how they want. Adult learners have their own style of learning that includes four key elements, discussed below. Even if an employer structure its training program to meet these elements, it may still run into reluctant learners.

The Four Elements of Adult Learning

1. Motivation. To motivate adult learners, set a friendly or open tone at each session, create a feeling of concern, and set an appropriate level of difficulty. Other motivators for adult learners include:

  • Personal achievement—including attaining higher job status or keeping up with and/or surpassing competitors
  • Social well-being—including opportunities for community work
  • External expectations—such as meeting the expectations of someone with formal authority
  • Social relationships—including opportunities for making new friends that satisfy people’s desire for association
  • Stimulation—that breaks the routine of work and provides contrast in employees’ lives
  • Interest in learning—which gives employees knowledge for the sake of knowledge and satisfies curious minds

2. Reinforcement. Use both positive and negative reinforcement to be successful in training adult learners. Use positive reinforcement, such as verbal praise frequently, when teaching new skills in order to encourage progress and reward good results. Use “negative” reinforcement, such as constructive criticism, to stop bad habits or poor performance.

3. Retention. Adults must retain what they’ve learned in order to realize benefits on both the personal and companywide levels. Achieve great retention rates by having trainees practice their newly acquired skills again and again until they are familiar and comfortable enough to ensure long-term success.

4. Transference. Adults want to bring what they learn in training directly to the workplace. Positive transference occurs when adults are able to apply learned skills to the workplace. Negative transference occurs when learners can’t—or don’t—apply skills to the workplace.

Know the Audience

Instructors need to know what kinds of learners trainees are. In general, people learn in one of three ways:

Visual–These learners receive information best through seeing it or reading it. Their brains process the information and retain it once they see it. These learners benefit from written instructions, diagrams, handouts, overheads, videos, and other visual information.

Oral–Oral learners receive information best when they hear it. They respond best to speakers, audio conferences, discussion groups, Q & A sessions, and other oral information.

Kinesthetic or Tactile–These learners learn by touch and feel. They will benefit from show and tell where equipment is available to handle. They also respond well to demonstrations of new procedures and in having the chance to practice themselves. Instructors will inevitably have all three kinds of learners in every training session. It’s important, therefore, to integrate a combination of teaching styles into the training.

When Training Isn’t the Answer

The next step is to analyze and confirm the data to determine what training needs exist. Remain open to the idea that training may not always be the answer in every case. Use these guidelines to determine if another approach might work best:

  • In cases where the overall size or difficulty of the skill or procedure is complex or where only one employee is having trouble, coaching or other one-on-one job aids may be better than a training session.
  • Qualified training is not enough because participants must also be motivated to learn and perform. If training has already been conducted , more sessions may not be needed; instead, there may be a need to find ways to change the working environment in order to encourage better job performance.
  • If previous training hasn’t met its goals, find out why it failed. Was there too much downtime between the session and performance? Was the session held under ideal conditions, or was there a poor training environment? All these factors must be taken into consideration before any decisions are made. The solution may be as simple as revising an old program.

Draw Up a Detailed Blueprint

Once it is determined what the training needs are, who needs to be trained, and how best to train them, it is time to develop a plan. Here’s how:

1. Set specific goals to meet each identified training need.

  • >Use quantifiable measurements for what employees are to achieve after training, such as an increased production quota or decreased injury reports.
  • Use charts, graphs, and tables wherever possible to show management specific numbers and trends that the training program will achieve. For example, chart the increased productivity.
  • Set realistic targets that are achievable, but not necessarily easily achieved. Get to know how to challenge the trainees to reach for more effective performance. For example, look at the highest production peak employees have ever achieved, even if it was only one time, and set the target slightly above this point. Employees know they can achieve it because they already have. But they also know it’s challenging to accomplish.

2. List everyone who needs to be trained in each topic area.

  • Use these lists to help customize the training to the audience.
  • Prepare trainees by communicating before sessions with prequizzes, agendas, or requests for specific topics trainees want addressed.

3. Make a master schedule of all the training to be conducted this month or this year.

  • Within the master schedule, set specific dates for each session.
  • Include makeup dates for trainees who cannot attend scheduled sessions. Use a logical progression for multipart training; make sure sessions aren’t too far apart so that trainees forget the first training or too close together so that trainees suffer information overload.
  • Also allow time for trainees who want more training in the first section to receive it before the next session is held.

4. Choose the appropriate method(s) for each group of trainees in each topic area.

  • Plan to use more than one training method for each topic to ensure that you reach all the types of learners in the session. Plan flexibility in to your use of materials so that you are prepared for technical difficulties or other problems.
  • List the materials and methods for each session.

Once all this information is collected and organized, it will be easy to develop and conduct the training sessions.

Tuition Refund

Many employers encourage their employees to attend outside education or training programs by offering tuition-assistance, most commonly reimbursing a specified percentage of the tuition to the worker upon successful completion of the course.


Employers must be especially careful that their training programs are free of discrimination in selection and presentation. Performance evaluations of trainees should be reviewed for possible discrimination, and training documentation should be kept in employee personnel files.

Training Time as Compensable Hours

Training programs conducted during regular working hours constitute work time and must be compensated as such, according to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). After-hours training need not be compensated if:

  • Attendance is entirely outside normal working hours and is voluntary (attendance will not be found voluntary if the employee is led to believe that attending is critical to his or her job).
  • The training is not directly related to the employee’s present job.
  • The employee does not do any productive work during the program.

A training program is considered directly related to the job if the training is designed to help the employee handle the present job more effectively (but voluntary attendance at school outside the workplace, after hours is not work time, even if it is related to the employee’s present job). Time spent in training for a new job or in the development of new skills is less likely to be classified as compensable work time.

Training Required by Federal Law


The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires the following safety training:

  • Emergency plan. Before implementing an emergency action plan, employers must designate and train a sufficient number of people to assist in the safe and orderly emergency evacuation of employees.
  • Fire hazards. Employers must make known to employees the fire hazards of the materials and processes to which they are exposed.
  • Hearing protectors. Employers must provide training in the use and care of all hearing protectors provided to employees.
  • Processes and operations. Each employee presently involved in operating a process, or before operating a newly assigned process, must be trained in the operating procedures, with emphasis on the specific safety and health hazards, emergency operations including shutdown, and safe work practices applicable to the employee’s job tasks. Alternatively, an employer may certify in writing that the employee has the required knowledge, skills, and abilities to safely carry out the duties and responsibilities as specified in the operating procedures. Refresher training must be provided at least every 3 years, and more often if necessary, to each employee involved in operating a process to assure that the employee understands and adheres to the current operating procedures of the process. The employer, in consultation with the employees involved in operating the process, will determine the appropriate frequency of refresher training.

The employer shall ascertain that each employee involved in operating a process, has received and understood the training required by this paragraph. The employer shall prepare a record that contains the identity of the employee, the date of training, and the means used to verify that the employee understood the training.

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE). Employers must train every worker that is required to use PPE. Training must cover, at a minimum: what PPE is necessary; when it is necessary; how to wear, use, and adjust the particular PPE; its proper care, maintenance, useful life, and disposal; and its limitations. If an employee that has already been trained does not appear to have a good understanding, the person must be retrained.
  • Respirators. Employees using respirators in their jobs must be trained in procedures to ensure adequate air quality, quantity, and flow of breathing air for atmosphere-supplying respirators. Training should also cover the respiratory hazards to which workers are potentially exposed during routine and emergency situations, and the proper use, maintenance, and limitations of respirators.

Right to Know/Hazard Communication

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act’s (OSH Act) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires employers to provide employees with information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area. The training must be given at the time of the initial assignment and whenever a new hazard is introduced into the work area. The OSH Act’s requirements for employee information and training are flexible, allowing a company to design a program tailored to its needs and operations. At a minimum, the training must cover the following:

  • The location of workplace areas where hazardous chemicals are present and where the workplace chemical list, MSDSs, and the written communications program are kept
  • How the hazard communication program is implemented, how to read and interpret labels and MSDSs, and how employees can obtain and use available hazard information.
  • How workers can detect the presence of hazardous chemicals (e.g., visual appearance, smell); their physical and health hazards; and protective measures employees can take, including specific protective procedures the employer is providing such as engineering controls, work practices, and personal protective equipment.

Information and training must be specific to the kinds of hazards present in the workplace and the particular protective equipment, measures, and procedures that are necessary. General training or a general discussion of hazardous chemicals, for example, is not enough. This is a critical part of the HCS, and if an inspector concludes that training is inadequate, a more rigorous review of the company’s entire compliance program will probably follow.

Federal Requirements for Effective Ethics Programs

Under the amended Federal Sentencing Guidelines, effective November 1, 2004, employers are able to reduce the fines imposed on them for the criminal acts of their employees by providing their employees at every level within the company, as well as agents of the company, with compliance and ethics training in order to demonstrate an effective compliance and ethics program. Before November 1, 2004, training was not a required element of an effective compliance and ethics program. These new amendments have rigorously toughened the requirements for companies to reduce their fines if even one of their employees is guilty of criminal misconduct.

Whenever an employee commits a criminal act within the scope of his or her employment, the organization as a whole can be held criminally liable for that act. Companies can face hefty fines and probation for a period of up to 5 years; can be forced to pay back victims of the their employees’ criminal activities, apologize to the victims, and post public notices of the conviction; and have property used in the commission of, or acquired from the proceeds of, criminal activity seized by the government. According to the Federal Sentencing Commission, an organization that has an effective compliance and ethics program can reduce its fines for a criminal conviction by as much as 90 percent.

The Federal Sentencing Commission states that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines apply to “all organizations whether publicly or privately held, and of whatever nature, such as corporations, partnerships, labor unions, pension funds, trusts, nonprofit entities, and governmental units….”

The Federal Sentencing guidelines outline seven steps an employer must take to have an effective compliance and ethics program:

  • An organization must establish standards and procedures to prevent and detect criminal conduct.
  • An organization’s high-level personnel must be knowledgeable about and oversee the content, implementation, operation, and effectiveness of the program.
  • An organization must take reasonable efforts to avoid giving substantial authority to an individual that the organization knew, or should have known, has engaged in criminal activity or other conduct inconsistent with an effective ethics program.
  • An organization must take reasonable measures to periodically conduct training programs for and disseminate information to the organization’s governing authority, high-level personnel, employees, and agents.
  • An organization must monitor and audit for criminal activity, periodically evaluate the effectiveness of the program, and create and communicate procedures for employees and agents to report criminal activity without fear of retaliation.
  • An organization must provide incentives to comply with the program and enforce disciplinary measures for engaging in criminal conduct or failing to prevent or detect criminal conduct.
  • An organization must respond appropriately to criminal conduct and modify the compliance and ethics program, if needed, to prevent further criminal conduct.

Federal Training System

The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA)

WIA consolidates about 60 federal job-training programs into an integrated whole. The program gives each state three block grants targeting adult employment and training, disadvantaged youth employment and training, and adult education and family literacy programs. The federal government retains oversight, reviews state programs, and rejects those that don’t meet the Act’s standards.

The Act requires that each state establish a state partnership made up of the state’s governor; his or her representatives; and representatives of business, labor, youth activity organizations, vocation and adult education, state agency officials, and state legislators. The partnership must develop a detailed, thorough 3-year plan for submission to the federal secretary of labor, which must describe how the state will spend the funds for adults, dislocated workers, and youth. When a state plan is approved, the governor of the state will allocate funds for the various training programs in various localities.

Each state must establish a one-stop training system, with at least one center in each local area that provides core services. These core services include determination of eligibility, outreach, intake and orientation, skill level assessment, case management assistance, job search and placement, provision of information regarding job opportunities, and information about the performance of local providers. When a state’s workforce development plan is approved by the Department of Labor, the state is eligible for funding of WIA programs. Employers who train workers through this system are then eligible for grants, significant tax credits, and other benefits. Many state plans have been approved to date

For further information, employers should contact their state labor department or the Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20210.