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Staff continuing education: Must you or should you pay for it?

By Paul Edwards


I’m looking to hire a new employee and they asked me about my policy on paying for employee CE. I normally don’t pay for employee CE but it sounds important to this potential new employee. What is the best way to handle this?


Many individuals have annual continuing education (CE) requirements they need to meet in order to maintain certain credentials. Meeting that requirement is an obligation on the individual, not on the practice. Of course, you should keep track of whether your employees have the credentials; otherwise it does become a problem for the practice.

While you may not be required to help pay for the cost of license renewals or CEs taken specifically for an employee’s license, offering that type of a benefit is becoming more and more common and is definitely something people look for when considering accepting a job offer.

In general, when looking to provide CE benefits to employees, we recommend offering them as a reimbursement option. And, if you want to offer this type of benefit, there are a few things to consider:

Which employee positions qualify for the benefit? Will it be available to any license holders, or only certain positions?

When are employees eligible for this benefit? Once they’ve been with you for 90 days? Six months? One year?

What does the benefit cover? The cost of CEs needed for the license, the cost of license renewal, or both?

What is the monetary value of the benefit? We commonly see this as a set maximum amount per year. Some employers have different amounts for different positions based on the expected total cost of their CE. Other employers have the maximum amount increase over time.

When are reimbursements paid? Upon presentation of a receipt for the course? Or at set intervals, such as having a six month look-back period? This would mean they’re able to submit reimbursement requests at set intervals, which can help prevent you from paying for a CE course only to have that employee quit the next day.

Once you have determined all of the above criteria, we advise putting that information in your handbook so employees are aware of the policy. We also recommend listing this as a benefit when posting a job ad, as some job seekers will be looking for that in their next employer.

If this is not a benefit you offer but is something a specific applicant is asking for, you could agree to give them some type of a benefit to help get them to come work for you. But there are two things to keep in mind in this scenario:

First, make sure you clearly document what you are agreeing to pay for and provide that documentation to the employee.

Second, consider the impact it would have on other employees if they find out you are paying for a new hire’s CE but not for theirs.

As a general rule of thumb, employers are not required to pay for the CE that employees have to take in order to maintain a license so long as those courses are taken on a completely voluntary basis. In this case, “voluntary” means that the decision about which courses to take and when to take them are left completely up to the employee.

All that being said, the rules do change if you get yourself involved with choosing (or strongly suggesting) what courses an employee takes. At that point you get into the territory of an employee taking a specific course for work-related reasons rather than simply to maintain their license. When that happens, it doesn’t matter how generous your CE reimbursement may be, you will need to follow state and federal law around paying for expenses and employee time – including overtime.

You can read more about employer obligations related to travel and training pay here.









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