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Employment Blog

Are Employer-Mandated Anger-Management Counseling Sessions Considered Compensable Time?

Authored by Ruder Ware Attorneys
Posted on May 6, 2014
Filed under Employment

Are employer-mandated anger-management counseling sessions considered compensable "hours worked" for purposes of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act? What if the employee attends anger-management counseling outside of his or her normal working hours? These questions came up recently during a roundtable meeting of an HR group of which I'm fortunate to be a part. Several participants speculated that employers are likely categorically required to pay employees attending anger-management counseling sessions, regardless of circumstances. Others speculated that if employer-mandated anger-management counseling sessions occur outside the employee's normal work hours on his or her own time no pay is required. All participants believed there is a judicial ruling that is pertinent but all wanted to double check before making any conclusive statements (myself included).

The applicable case is Sehie v. City of Aurora, 432 F.3d 749 (7th Cir. 2005)[which covers employers located in Wisconsin]. In City of Aurora, the employer required one of its employees, as a condition of continued employment, to submit to weekly psychotherapy sessions with a mental health counselor of the employer's choosing in response to several "frictional" episodes with others on the job. The sessions were held outside of the employee's regularly scheduled working hours. The employee spent approximately one hour at each session, and two hours traveling back and forth by car to each session. Ultimately, the employee resigned, and sued her employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act, claiming that her employer should have paid her for the time she spent attending and commuting back and forth to the counseling sessions.

The court first acknowledged that "the general rule is that an employee must be paid for all time spent in physical or mental exertion, whether burdensome or not, controlled and required by the employer, and pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the employer or his business." This is true, stated the court, even if the hours "are spent in idleness." Here, the employer argued that the fact the counseling sessions were employer-mandated was inconsequential because "medical treatment always primarily and necessarily benefits the employee." The Court disagreed concluding the sessions were mandatory and were a condition of employment and were designed to enable the employee to perform her job duties and relate to co-workers more effectively and at a higher skill level. In other words, in this case, the Court concluded the counseling sessions primarily benefited the employer and was compensable time.

Significantly, the Court held, "[b]y no means does our ruling mean that every time an employer gets help for its employees, the employee must be compensated for hours worked." So this means there is no categorical approach, and that employer-mandated anger-management sessions that occur outside an employee's regular work hours may, under the right circumstances, still be considered compensable time for which an employer must pay its employee for time spent attending and traveling to and from counseling.