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Hi Programmers Community.

I came across the following predicament during the past month when an employee at my company resigned. It is the company policy that when you resign, all training that you have undergone during the year prior to your resignation, you have to pay back.

This is all good, as this is practice in a lot of companies. What happened was, a few months ago, a certain course was presented by an external company. We offered a room in our office as venue for free, and then we were allowed to send some employees on the training for free. He was one of them.

Should he pay back the training costs (which was quite expensive)? Has anyone come across a similar situation? Or does someone have policy regarding this?



Just to clarify a few things. The training was kind of optional (the senior developer chose who to send, but I'm sure he could have said no). It was however very much work related. It was training regarding a technology that we use every day. Also, it was not internal training, it was done by an external company. It was however done on our premises. That was the deal, they use our venue for free, and we send people on the training for free.

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Wait wait wait... You guys use training as a golden shackle to make sure people don't leave? Please tell me where you work so I'll never apply there. Ever –  Christopher Mahan May 1 '11 at 21:17
This is just horrible - does the job contract actually SAY so? Is it legal? –  user1249 May 1 '11 at 21:29
@Christopher: The solution for the employees is actually quite simple. If they want to leave, they need to wreak enough havoc for the company to fire them. Then they won't have to pay. What do you mean, "that damages the company"? Of course it does, silly. And is there any other reason for such a policy? –  sbi May 1 '11 at 22:17
You want him to pay for something that the company got for free? That is ridiculous? Martin Fowler spoke at a place where I worked, he was espousing the benefits of training your employees? He was asked "Aren't you afraid that your employees will leave after you have spent money training them?" He responded in all seriousness "I am afraid the untrained ones will stay!" Your company is applying punitive damages to employees for hopefully becoming more valuable. So they are ensuring that everyone stays as less valuable is possible. Idioticy at its finest –  Jarrod Roberson May 1 '11 at 23:48
@sbi Excellent. Sounds like your boss has his priorities straight and knows how to manage a team. You're lucky. –  Christopher Mahan May 2 '11 at 6:55

8 Answers 8

up vote 31 down vote accepted

Absolutely not. And IMHO it's a crazy policy.

I can see the logic that the business doesn't want to get trapped in paying for training for staff who then leave. However, this generally happens in companies that under-pay staff - it should pay for the job someone will do, not for what they can do when they walk in the door.

Two obvious consequences of this policy are:

  • Staff refuse to take training for an upcoming project lasting the next 6 months, because if they want to leave 10 months down the road, they'd have to pay the company.
  • Staff stay because they can't afford to leave. Their productivity will be terrible if they don't want to be there.

When training is free like this was, I've known companies send staff who had already resigned, because keeping good-will from ex-staff is always beneficial. What do you think they'll say about the company if it sends them a bill for free training?

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oh yeah, been there. In small startup CEO wanted as to take one day Oracle course, but we would have to sign contract to pay 3000€ if we leave before 1 year. End result -- no one took the course. –  vartec May 1 '11 at 23:51
Another argument is, you should be paid to attend training. Therefore, paying the company back for it is like handing them back some of your wages, which is absolutely crazy. –  Tim Post May 1 '11 at 23:53

No he shouldn't pay! You got it for free (according to your question). If your contract states he must pay back the costs, and the costs were zero. Then he should pay zero.

Unless I've misunderstood the question and your company paid for the training but got a discount (certain amount of free seats) because you provided the venue. In which case I think it comes down to, did he take one of the "free" seats.

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Some idiotic unethical lawyer could argue that the costs are not what the company paid but how much it would cost to give a similar training for one employee if it was done today. Unethical idiots abound. –  Trinidad May 2 '11 at 3:14

What about training to do his job? Do you expect him to give back a portion of his paycheck from the first six months (or whatever the probation period was)? No, this is a crazy policy. It's the cost of doing business. Maybe the business should figure out why he left. Most people do not get training and leave. It may seem that he just got the training to improve his chances elsewhere but I bet if the Company had either treated him better or paid him more, he would have stayed.

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I would ask the company to provide invoices and proof of payment. That's what they do for expenses. Contractually you repay the cost to the company and not the value of the training.

What a great policy to promote the 'us verses them' corporate culture. Did you get this out of a Dickens novel?

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  1. The policy of paying back any educational assistance paid by the company for an employees education for up to a year prior to that employee's departure is very common. However I've only seen this policy in effect for voluntary/optional education, I've not heard of this for mandatory educational courses.

  2. If that course was not free and the employee is being asked to repay it, he can ask to see evidence that his seat was paid for. If there is, he probably needs to pay it. If it was indeed free, then there will be no record o payment and therefore no basis for any request for payback.

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"...he can ask to see evidence that his seat was paid for...", good one yeah, will tell him. –  Nico Huysamen May 2 '11 at 8:32

If I worked for the company and I quit, I would tell you to go pound salt and sue me if you wanted to try to get the money back.

If you actually did sue me, I am confident you would lose. That policy is about as ridiculous as saying if one leaves they have to pay back their salary. It's the cost of doing business. And just because it is policy doesn't mean it is legal or that the employees are liable for it. Just like non-compete clauses, in many states now they will not be enforced.

I would not say your policy is common. I know people that have worked for large companies such as IBM and Honeywell, that had the companies pay for a PhD on the condition they work there for X more years following. Once their PhD's were completed, they left, and told the company to get lost. The companies just ate it and didn't sue them because it would have been hopeless.

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The policy may have more legal standing in OP's country. –  Anna Lear May 2 '11 at 0:42
Also, those Honeywell Ph.D.s may have problems down the road. A hiring manager might well see what happened and ask "So, how do we know you'll stay longer than necessary to get some training or check off a resume box?" –  David Thornley May 2 '11 at 15:36

This depends a lot of your local labor laws. In many countries this would be actually illegal, if the training was either directly work related or if it was mandatory.

However, that doesn't stop companies from putting such clauses in the contracts. In practice it's much like non-compete clause, it's not very profitable for company to try enforce it, if ex-employee doesn't do so voluntarily. It would cost them much more to take it to court, than possible gain.

Personally I have never seen that with work related training, but with not directly work related extras (eg. language courses).

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One can agree that paying for trainig is okay when you receive a degree/diploma which says that you have acquired these skills through the program. Though in case of in house training where you don't even receive a degree paying for it does not make sense.

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