A few months ago I took a 1 week training course where all I had to do was literally accept an Outlook invite to attend it. I did not sign anything.

I've now received an offer elsewhere and coincidentally my current company sent an email around asking people to attend training for a particular technology and someone mentioned the "stay at the employer for 6 months or pay back the money" fine print in the email.

I've looked at past emails regarding the course I took and I am unable to see any such fine print, and my contract has nothing written on it regarding paying back training fees if leaving within n months.

How to ask without making it obvious?

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    Country might be important. In The Netherlands employers occasionally try (you can negotiate to not have this) have such a clause for courses costing X amount or X period. They will try it when they help you out with part-time study during work (helping out financially by allowing study time, paying for the education or giving time off). All negotiable during contract phases of course ;) – rkeet Aug 17 at 6:56
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    Country is extremely important. The laws may differ hugely on this. See my answer for an example. – Gnudiff Aug 17 at 7:59
  • HOw much does the course cost? – joojaa Aug 17 at 9:21
  • The term for this concept is guarantee of service. Whether you actually agreed to any such guarantee, whether it's enforceable (or else how much you might have to reimburse), depend entirely on your jurisdiction, labor laws, contract etc. etc. Please add specifics. – smci Aug 18 at 3:34
  • "someone mentioned the <guarantee-of-service> fine print in the email" It's quite possible they got a different version of the email than you. As long as you kept of a copy of yours, why rock the boat by asking? – smci Aug 18 at 3:40

Frame-challenge:
Unless the thought of having to pay back for that course makes you seriously reconsider accepting the new job offer - don't ask at all.

Asking makes it possible that someone will think about it when they may not have done so before.

If you'd accept the new job even if you have to pay back for the course, then just accept the new offer, turn in your resignation, and wait to see if anyone says anything about the course.
At that point you could decide whether or not to push back, but I think that asking about it makes it more likely that you'll be told you have to pay.

  • "but I think that asking about it makes it more likely that you'll be told you have to pay" Why? I agree with the rest of your answer, but that part doesn't make sense given the context provided. – Mast Aug 17 at 6:07
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    @Mast Asking about it might trigger a better safe than sorry answer stating that he'll have to pay back if leaving within 6 months. – Gertsen Aug 17 at 7:10
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    @Matt - Even if they are entitled to be paid back, they may or may not decide to pursue it. Raising this to someone's attention make it more likely that it'll be pursued, whether nor not they're entitled. There is no benefit to the OP of even raising the question - the outcome for him either stays the same, or gets worse. – brhans Aug 17 at 14:31

I'm inclined to agree with bharal that, in a normal organization, asking about this isn't going to cause problems.

However, if you're really uncomfortable asking specifically about the training you took, you could try this:

I noticed that the email for training in [technology] a conditional requirement to repay the fees. Is this a policy the company has always had for all training, is this a new policy for all training going forward, or does it depend on the training course? If it's a per course policy, how do we know which training has that policy?

Their answer will either flat out tell you whether the policy applies to your past training or tell you how you can find out.

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    Nit: I wouldn't say 'fine print' (even though OP did); that can be read as accusing them of trying to hide it, and raise hackles. Better something like 'I notice [new course] has a conditional requirement to repay; is this new/old/all/some/applicable to ...?' – dave_thompson_085 Aug 17 at 0:16

If depends very much on the country. You must check your local laws and maybe consult a lawyer to make sure, if it is important to you.

For example, in Latvia:

  • all training expenses for employees are at the risk of the employer. The Labour law states that employer may not deduct training expenses for training that employee took at employer's request, even if employee decides to leave immediately after finishing training.

  • Unless you happen to be a government employee, in which case you have to pay back the full cost of training if you leave within 6m of attending it, and 50% if you leave within a year.

The companies fully knowing this still occasionally include clauses like you mentioned in your post - knowing that this is illegal and void, but counting on some employees not knowing this.

In which case at the final pay they ask you to sign that you agree to have the training expenses deducted. In which case you write that you don't agree and they have to pay you the full amount you are due.

Check your employment contract or terms and conditions for any information around training. Also any invitation to attend training should include if any fees need to be paid if you leave before a certain period of time.

If you haven’t signed anything, they should inform you of these things prior to training.

I don’t think you need to ask anyone if this information isn’t stated in contracts or the invitation to the training course, but if you do just ask so that you’re aware, you’re well within your rights.

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    This. Also check local Labour law or similar. Laws trump whatever contract says. – Gnudiff Aug 17 at 8:08

Note IANAL.

A few months ago I took a 1 week training course where all I had to do was literally accept an Outlook invite to attend it. I did not sign anything.

Word of general advice : accepting by email is generally considered you agreeing to a contract (i.e. a contract to attend training subject to terms outlined before you accepted).

However the devil is in the details ...

I've now received an offer elsewhere

No problem there.

and coincidentally my current company sent an email around asking people to attend training for a particular technology and someone mentioned the "stay at the employer for 6 months or pay back the money" fine print in the email.

Reading this carefully, the suggestion of repaying if you leave refers only to this new training email, not the previous ones.

It's not clear if the person making this "suggestion" is right or wrong or a manager or something else. It could be a rumor. But it doesn't seem relevant to your previous course.

I've looked at past emails regarding the course I took and I am unable to see any such fine print, and my contract has nothing written on it regarding paying back training fees if leaving within n months.

Well done.

If the previous course email offer did not include such terms and they're not part of your normal contract then the company cannot apply such a penalty (legally) to that. Note there could be an exception in your own county's employment laws, but you've omitted country information. You need to check that.

But in general one party to a contract (which is what the agreement to training was) cannot unilaterally alter the contract terms later to add a penalty clause. Alterations to any contract generally require the consent of both parties.

How to ask without making it obvious?

You've checked the previous emails and assuming your own employment contract and country employment laws do not give the company the right to the money back, then you don't need to ask.

Note that even if your country's employment laws allow companies to have such a condition that does not mean they apply automatically - that would have to be explicitly stated in the relevant laws.

So from what you've said and the checks you made it sounds like you do not need to check anything apart from your country's employment laws. I don't think you need to ask your employer at all.

If you're really worried about this ask a lawyer with knowledge of employment law. If you have a union or similar association then contact them, as they sometimes can offer legal support and advice.

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    "accepting by email is generally considered you agreeing to a contract" Need a cite for that. A judge would have to have a very poor understanding of Outlook to consider accepting an invite to be agreeing to a contract. Accepting an invite in Outlook means consenting to Outlook putting the event on your calendar, nothing more. – Acccumulation Aug 17 at 15:32

Talk to your labour union. They have lawyers who specialize in fine print in labour cases and they will know whether the fine print will hold up in court and whether the fine print from the other course applies to you.

It is not uncommon for an employer to ask for requirements that do not hold up in court. Sometimes the employer even knows that, but reasons that if just most of the employees thinks it holds up in court then it is worth it.

someone mentioned the "stay at the employer for 6 months or pay back the money" fine print in the email.

Then the first place to start is asking that person for more information.

A contract requires a definite statement of willingness to be bound by the terms. You never agreed to the terms, so there is no contractual obligation to pay.

But if you're really worried about it, buy something from your company, and pay with a check with fine print stating that they waive any claim to reimbursement for training.

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