Most employees will undertake training at some point during their employment, this might be on-the-job training during their normal work day or extra training which occurs outside of work hours.  Sometimes training will be conducted by the employer directly and sometimes by a third-party.

Questions sometimes arise as to whether employees are entitled to be paid for training and at what rate. Although it is important to check whether any modern award (or enterprise agreement) that applies to the employee has special rules about payment for training, as a general rule of thumb, employees will be entitled to payment for any mandatory training, whilst attendance at training that is non-mandatory (ie purely voluntary) would generally not have to be paid.

What is mandatory training?

Mandatory training is any training that employers are required to attend by their employer (ie they do not have a choice whether to attend or not).

Mandatory training is often used to educate employees on rules and regulations in workplaces and/or to develop competencies in employees’ roles. Mandatory training can be conducted online or in person and can take different forms depending on what job and industry the employee is working in.

For example, when an employee is first employed at a company, they might be required to engage in some introductory mandatory training before they can start working. This could be for the purposes of work, health & safety & compliance.

Another example is if an employee receives a promotion and/or moves into a new role with more or varied responsibilities – they would likely have to do additional training, before they can start their new job.

Mandatory training is often conducted during normal work hours, but sometimes employees are required to attend mandatory training outside of normal work hours and sometimes at different locations (eg where the employee is required to attend a training course delivered by an external training provider).

What is non-mandatory training?

For training to be considered non-mandatory, attendance would be on a purely voluntary basis.  In other words, employees would be free to choose to attend or not. Such training is therefore not a requirement of the employee’s role.

Non-mandatory training often covers topics which have some relation to the employee’s role and are aimed at general professional development, even though the skills/information being taught/provided is not essential to the employee performing their role.

Such training is often delivered outside of normal working hours, but might also be provided at lunchtimes or during the working day.

Employers’ obligations with mandatory training

In short, if the training is mandatory, employees are entitled to payment. Whether the training is formal, informal, on the job, online or delivered in some other way, if the employee is required to be there, they must be paid the right pay for the hours worked.

If the training occurs during the employee’s normal working day then payment should be simple: they just get paid the same rate as if they were performing any other work.

Employers can require employees to work reasonable additional hours over and above their normal hours, so it will usually be possible to require employees to attend mandatory training outside of their normal working hours so long as they are given sufficient notice, the additional hours are not excessive, etc.

For payment purposes, such additional hours will generally need to be treated the same as any other additional hours worked. For employees covered by modern awards or enterprise agreements, such additional hours are generally payable at overtime rates (although the modern award / enterprise agreement may have specific rules about this). For employees paid over-award rates / salaries it will usually be possible to absorb these payments into a general salary payment, so long as this is set sufficiently high and the employment contract has an appropriate offset clause.

Where attendance at mandatory training involves extra travel time / costs for the employee, again, the terms of any modern award or enterprise agreement should be checked for details of how this should be paid.

If an employer wishes such costs to be included in an overall salary or wage, ideally this should be spelled out in the employee’s employment contract.

Employers’ obligations with non-mandatory training

Generally the only way that an employer is not required to pay staff for training they have put in place is if it is clearly communicated from the start that the training is non mandatory, participation is optional and the training will be unpaid. It should be clear to the employees there will be no type of disciplinary repercussions for nonattendance.

To ensure there is no confusion with employees around this, our recommendation would always be to put the arrangements regarding the training (and the fact that it will be unpaid) in writing, either in a letter or workplace policy (contact us if you need help with this!)

As above, the terms of modern awards and enterprise agreements should be checked to ensure that providing unpaid training does not conflict with any provisions in the award.

What if the employee has not yet commenced work and we get them to complete the training before starting?

If this training is a requirement for the employee to be able to perform their role they will generally be required to be paid even if the training is completed prior to commencement of their first “proper” shift. There is only very limited scope to have employees complete non-paid work prior to employment commencing, see for example our previous blog on trial shifts. Specialised advice should be sought if you are considering doing this.

What are the benefits of mandatory and non-mandatory training?

Training programs in the workplace can contribute to a positive growth focused culture. Through delivering regular training, an employer is demonstrating their commitment to the ongoing improvement of their workforce and in turn you gain more skilled and confident employees. Training can also provide essential education such as  showing employees how to stay safe on the job and therefore improving the health and safety of the overall workplace.

Need advice?

If you need any further advice on managing training in the workplace, please contact us.


The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact HR Connect for advice.

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