When a restaurant employee fails a food-safety exam, who pays for the retake?

unexpected costs
Food safety and sanitation training is very much work related and, as such, should be paid. | Photo: Shutterstock


I paid for a new manager to take a ServSafe® class (and of course covered the time she was out taking the class). She failed the exam. Now she is asking me to pay for her retest. At what point is this the employee’s responsibility to take ownership of her own learning and not mine?

– Owner


The U.S. Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act is very clear regarding whose responsibility it is to pay for training.

Unless the training is “outside of normal work hours, voluntary, not job related, and no other work is concurrently performed,” it should be paid. Since food safety and sanitation training is necessary for your operation, this is very much a work-related training. You are doing the right thing by paying for it.

I understand your frustration with the fact that your manager failed the exam: These classes and exams are pricey, and you would expect that if you are supporting this training, your employee would do you the honor of meeting expectations by passing the exam. Unfortunately, she didn’t. It happens. My advice is to provide the support she needs to meet the original goal—earning the certification for the compliance and success of your operation.

If this training cost is truly burdensome, you could specify in job postings that new hires come to you already having earned their food safety and sanitation certification. But I suspect if you made that change, you would be missing out on some great prospective employees whose certifications aren’t current.

No one likes unexpected costs, but this one is modest and important.

As always, this column is not legal advice. Local regulations vary, so consult with your attorney and restaurant association to be sure you are in compliance.

More on employee training here.