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My company, after being reluctant to send employees on training, finally offered us a training course. The course is expensive and overseas.

If we want to attend we have to sign a document that states that if we leave the company in the following 12 months we need to repay, in full, all the training costs. I plan to leave the company in the next 12 months; refusing to sign this document will be a clear signal to my managers that I plan to leave.

I would like to keep my intention confidential and I would politely like to refuse to sign the contract. What would be the most professional way to handle this?

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If you do manage to get out of this contract, attend this training (with your current company paying) but leave as planned, you will be burning bridges. Perhaps the training could also be had more cheaply, maybe without an overseas flight? –  Stephan Kolassa Mar 25 at 11:34
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I can see both sides of this. The company is making an investment which they want to protect. You don't want to bind yourself to the company for that long, but it will be obvious why. Bonded training isn't unheard of - airline pilots have to bond themselves to their employer for a period, or take reduced pay to pay their (expensive) training costs. Maybe you can get your next employer to buy your bond as part of your negotiation. Difficult situation either way. –  Faelkle Mar 25 at 11:54
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If what @JoeStrazzere suggested isn't acceptable, perhaps you could simply feign disinterest in the training? Sort of as in "I'm not confident I'd learn anything that would justify having this liability hanging over me for a year, so I'd rather not go". Or is the training something that greatly interests you? –  aroth Mar 25 at 12:33
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Also, what country are you in? For instance, in Australia that sort of arrangement would generally be illegal as most Award contracts stipulate that it is the employer's responsibility to pay for any such training. –  aroth Mar 25 at 12:35
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A company being afraid to pay for training is predicated on underpaying their workers, period. If you add value to an employee and he leaves, you're not paying him enough. Training is in the employer's interest. Q: "What if we train everyone, and they all leave?" A: "What if you don't train everyone, and they all stay?" A company that won't train its employees is penny smart and pound foolish. –  ErikE Mar 25 at 17:30

6 Answers 6

Do you plan to leave?

Refusing to sign the contract will not actually be a clear signal to your managers that you plan to leave; it will be a clear signal that you do not want to sign that contract and find it objectionable.

Being human, though, they will naturally come up with reasons why you probably find it objectionable. To a certain extent, you can't stop this, but you can handle it. I'll touch on that, but first...

There's a lot of reason for this to be objectionable.

Even if you're planning to stay with the company, there's plenty of reason to be concerned about this contract. In particular, you might simply have to anyway. Your work situation may become untenable for various reasons, or personal emergency may demand you leave your job, or a number of other things may change in your life.

Naturally, being obligated to pay $(large amount) to your company if you need to leave is an unwelcome spectre to have looming over you.

That's also assuming best intentions, and that nobody in the company decides to take advantage of the fact you might not be able to afford to leave the company.

When you decline, communicate your reasoning.

This is the most you can do. Politely decline, and communicate to those offering the contract, simply, that you do not find the obligation fair and acceptable. If you feel the need to explain, or if they inquire, you should not need to explain much:

Such an obligation is not acceptable simply because changes of circumstance can happen and force you into a position where you need to leave your job. This is a natural phenomenon of the workforce. Having this financial obligation placed upon you in such a scenario is not acceptable.

You may also assure them you are planning on continuing to work for the company (for how long is not their business), but if they consider this an unreasonable explanation, doing so is probably unreasonable of them.

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I disagree; how long an employee works for a business is entirely the business' business. –  TylerH Mar 26 at 13:42
    
@TylerH Are these businesses making how long they will employ their employees the business of said employees? –  zigg Mar 26 at 17:09
    
@zigg The employees of a business != the business. In this case, Jonathan refers to "them", which I can only assume means "the business", or more specifically, "HR". It is certainly the business of a business's HR department to know the employment duration of all employees within their business. You can't reliably run a business if you can't trust that your employees will be there for work tomorrow or next week or next month. –  TylerH Mar 26 at 17:12
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@TylerH And you can't reliably live your life if you can't trust that your business will continue to employ you tomorrow or next week or next month. This is the nature of self-interest that both businesses and employes have. You are shifting the balance of power to businesses. –  zigg Mar 26 at 17:14
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@TylerH In an ideal world, how long the employee is planning to stay would be the employer's business, and how long the employer plans to keep them around would be the employee's. This isn't an ideal world though, and sharing such information can lead to the recipient terminating the agreement much sooner than the other desires. So this information is not something either side is obligated to know in every circumstance - it's something either side has the choice to communicate if they feel comfortable doing so. I will take a look at my answer to see if I can edit it later. –  Jonathan Hobbs Mar 26 at 22:16

I was in a similar situation once. The company was bringing in trainers for a period of 2 months. The team was supposed to work with the trainers two days a week during that time.

The company passed a document around that the training was mandatory and said that if we quit then we need to repay the training costs which was around $2k. Everyone was told to sign it.

I went to my boss and simply stated that I wouldn't sign the document. If they required me to have that training then pay for it was completely up to them as it was not something I was seeking. Fortunately, half the team did this...we just didn't know the others had made the same statements. Because of it the company relented. At first they made the training "optional". Then, when no one signed the document they decided to simply provide it with no recourse.

Now, as to your specific situation. The main questions are whether the training is mandatory or if it's optional.

  • If it's mandatory then you can decline to sign saying that if the company requires the training then the company needs to take all responsibility for it's payment. The risk is that they terminate your employment in order to replace you with someone that has the skills required. I suspect this isn't the case though. In part because locating a replacement employee which already has the skill set they want is usually more expensive than simply providing the training to an existing one.

  • If the training is optional then decline to sign and simply don't go. It sounds like it might be optional if the company was reluctant to provide it to begin with.

  • However, if it's optional and you want to go then I'd say you need to sign the agreement. Mainly because they are paying a lot of money for something that you will be the primary beneficiary of.

Note that all of the above possibilities completely bypasses whether you actually will be at the company in 12 months or not.

I certainly understand the company's position here. I have seen several instances where employees were provided advanced training that increased their market value and they left shortly thereafter. Although it is in the company's interest to keep their employees up to date, if employees have a history of leaving shortly thereafter then the company is not getting the benefit and therefore has no real reason to provide it.

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+1 for RL example –  itcouldevenbeaboat Mar 25 at 16:05
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Maybe the company should pay better wages if employees bolt just after getting new skills. –  Andy Mar 26 at 0:46
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I agree completely with this answer. If this is something the company is requiring, they should be on the hook for the costs, not you. If, on the other hand, it's optional, either don't go or be willing to pay for it if you leave within the specified time period. Especially in the case that you're already planning on leaving within that time period, I would personally consider going on a optional, expensive training trip on the company's dime without informing them of your intention to be dishonest. –  reirab Mar 26 at 8:16
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The company I work for has a similar policy for education reimbursement. When I want to take graduate classes, they pay for them on the condition that if I leave within two years of taking the class, I'll pay them back for those costs. That seems like a fair arrangement to me. –  reirab Mar 26 at 8:18
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@reirab If, on the other hand, it's optional, either don't go or be willing to pay for it if you leave within the specified time period. +1: I completely agree. Unless the training is mandatory, just take it or leave it with the conditions given. Trying to change the contract of an optional course - an opportunity that has been given to you gratis - because you want to leave in 12 months seems unethical to me. –  starsplusplus Mar 26 at 10:58

I'd also be inclined to refuse to sign the contract based on the inability to know what might happen in the next 12 months. An unforeseen circumstance could arise that prevents you from remaining in that particular employment and you don't want to take any risk that you may be lumbered with hefty reimbursement of employee training costs.

Unless of course, you see something else in the provided contract that gives you good grounds to refuse to sign it.

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First of all, I would not refuse to sign the agreement, take the training, and then leave in less than 12 months and expect to not have to reimburse the company. I think that would be dishonest. While I wouldn't like being in that situation either, I think it's fair for the company to say, Hey, if we make this big investment in training you, we don't want you to just quit the day after you get back and go take all that skill and knowledge that we paid for to a competing company.

What options is the company giving you?

If they say, "Everyone is required to take this training, and you must sign this agreement", then you are in a bind. At that point your only really choices are to either quit your job before the training; take the training, quit, and then reimburse the company; or delay quitting. Which I would do would depend a lot on the circumstances. If the training is valuable in future jobs and/or will look good on a resume, and you have no reason to leave on a specific date, you just don't particularly like the job, then you might just take the training and delay quitting. If there is some reason why you really must quit in less than 12 months -- you have another job already lined up or this job is so awful that you will kill yourself if you have to stay or whatever -- then you just have to make a decision which option is least objectionable.

If not taking the training is a realistic option, then that is what I would do. Like @Rus925 said, if they just sent out an email or a memo that says, "Anybody interested in this training, here's how to sign up and, oh, you'll have to sign this agreement", you could just not reply to the memo. If there are many people in the company not taking the training for any number of reasons, it's quite possible that no one will ask why you didn't. If it's optional, it's likely that many will say, "I can't take that much time away from my regular work" or even "I'm just not particularly interested".

If you must explain, you don't have to reveal specific plans. You could say, "I'm just not prepared to make this commitment. Who knows what will happen in the next 12 months?" If you just started at this job, you might say, "Hey, I just started here. I don't know how things will turn out."

By the way, I had a job a few years back where the company would pay for employees to go to college, but with a similar requirement that if you quit in less than -- I forget whether it was a year or how long -- that you had to repay the money. I took a few classes toward a master's degree under that program but then quit. I never paid any money back, I forget if I waited long enough or if they just didn't bother to enforce the policy.

A similar experience that I have now had at two companies is that after I took the job and had been working there for some time, they came up with new agreements that they wanted me to sign.

In one case they wanted me to sign a non-compete agreement that said that if I quit, I would not get any job involving computers -- I'm a software developer -- for one year. Well I wasn't going to sign that. I had no plans to quit at the time, but the odds were that sooner or later I would, and signing that would mean that I would basically have to agree to be unemployed for a year. Well, I suppose I could flip burgers at a fast food place. In that case I put my foot down and said that I'd agree not to go to work for a competing company, but I wouldn't agree to be unemployed for a year. The company agreed to change the contract, basically changed it from "... job involving computer technology of any kind whatsoever ..." to "... job involving computer technology that competes with ..." (The actual words in the contract were "of any kind whatsoever".) If they had insisted on the original wording, I don't know what choice I would have had but to quit. Better to be unemployed for a few weeks while I searched for another job than for a year.

Another one was a job where they suddenly demanded that all employees sign an agreement saying that any inventions they made or products they developed while working for the company belonged to the company. So if you spent your evenings and weekends developing some new product at home, using your own tools and equipment, not involving the company in any way ... it belonged to them. The agreement even specifically said "whether or not using company property or equipment". I and many other employees didn't want to sign that. Lots of people have dreams of starting their own business or at least some side business. In that case, I just never signed it. My boss came to me once and said that he needed to get my signed copy of the agreement. I just mumbled some excuse and never gave it to him, and nobody brought it up again. If the company had pressed, had said sign this or you're fired ... well, in that case the agreement was only for while you were working at the company, so I probably would have signed and then promptly started looking for another job.

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I wonder if we happened to have worked for the same companies! Been there on both of your experiences. I actually laughed out loud at my manager (and his boss) on the inventions one before walking out and back to my desk. They never brought it up with me again however I was saddened to see most of the dev team simply sign them without even reading the documents. –  Chris Lively Mar 25 at 14:29
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In the UK that non-compete agreement would not be enforceable anyway, as any judge would decide it is not reasonable. –  Ian Mar 25 at 17:05
    
Being required to agree that a company owns all inventions is common, as otherwise the company has to prove you did the work for them. However if the invention is not related to your employers business, they will find it hard to prove you did not invent it the day after you left. –  Ian Mar 25 at 17:09
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@IanRingrose I have no problem with saying that anything I worked on during time that the company paid me for, or that I developed using company-owned tools, workspace, etc, belongs to the company. If the company pays me $100 to build a widget, then it makes sense that they own the widget. Otherwise what did they pay me the $100 for? I balk at saying that I cannot work on some private project of my own at home on my own time. That one company is the only time someone has made that demand. –  Jay Mar 25 at 21:20
    
@Jay: in the UK it's like Ian says. The IP clause is pretty much standard for software developers (sometimes with a modifier, related to the company's business), but it's also common for employers to grant waivers once they know roughly what it is you're doing. In the UK it's pretty well held that if you use knowledge/expertise related to your job to develop something relating to your job, it doesn't matter whether you did it on company time/equipment or not, it's reasonable for the employer to contract that they own it. When it's totally unrelated I don't know the enforceability. –  Steve Jessop Mar 26 at 15:23

Are they expecting a personal response from you, or did they just email everyone on your team to share the "good" news? If it's the latter, you might not need to say anything.

If you do have to respond, you could just ask to be informed the next time the training is offered, after the first group from your company has returned with an assessment of the program. Potential price tag aside, there's a guaranteed huge time cost considering that the training is overseas; it's natural that some people wouldn't go even absent the contract.

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If as a result of taking the training you will pass an exam or gain a qualification that will make it very easy to get a new job, then the employer may have a case. (For example an accountancy qualification that you would pay for yourself anyway.)

Otherwise I would refuse to sign explaining that I could not predict what would happen to my wife’s job in the next year and we need the flexibility to be able to relocate if her job requires it.

Also remember that most training is of no benefit for getting a new job without practical experience.

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+1 for wife's job :) –  Rdpi Mar 25 at 17:20

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