Very briefly, In the UK, I've been asked to sign a document stating I will repay the cost of a training course if I leave the company in the year following it. Am I being unreasonable to refuse to sign the agreement? And accepting this means I won't be going on the training?

I do not intend to leave the company in the near future, however I like to keep my options open at all times especially now, as my personal life is in a severe state of flux.

I'm not convinced the training is necessary, I believe it will benefit my organisation a lot more than it will benefit my career. The training alone is worthless without experience, so if I wanted to use it to leave the organisation I'd have to stay for at least a year anyway to gain some experience in the product. The training is also expensive at £3,000 for a 5 day course.

I understand the companies viewpoint that they do not wish to risk training budget on an employee who may then leave the organisation. However, I believe that it is their responsibility to provide an environment where people do not want to leave, rather than creating clauses to force them to stay. Also, an employee with 7 years service should not be considered a flight risk.

If I refuse to sign the document and don't go on the training it will cause a few problems internally, I am concerned it will stifle my career in the organisation as I won't have the skills going forward to do my job effectively and others who accept the training and the terms will progress above me.

So, am I being unreasonable? Needlessly antagonistic? I've been told this is a 'standard' requirement 'these days', is that true?

marked as duplicate by gnat, Dmitry Grigoryev, Dukeling, DarkCygnus, Michael Grubey Aug 22 at 0:56

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • Is refusing the training actually an option? If not, you have a fairly strong case against signing it. – Mast Aug 21 at 8:34
  • @Dukeling: thanks for suggesting this post. I did read that one before posting but believed this question was different enough to be valid as I don't intend to leave the organisation, which was the primary concern and thing addressed in that question. My question is more around "is this reasonable" from a company perspective, and "is it unreasonable" from my perspective. – Christoph Aug 21 at 15:34
  • Do you mean if you leave voluntarily, or will you have to pay if you are forced to leave? – PStag Aug 21 at 20:12

13 Answers 13

up vote 69 down vote accepted

So, am I being unreasonable? Needlessly antagonistic?

No. You've been offered a deal and you're performing "due consideration". As any deal offer requires.

I've been told this is a 'standard' requirement 'these days', is that true?

It's a standard to require such agreements. It's not a standard to accept them blindly.

This is your answer here:

I'm not convinced the training is necessary, I believe it will benefit my organisation a lot more than it will benefit my career.

You already know it. Say: "I don't believe this training is beneficial to me, therefore I don't want it. If the company wants this training for me, then I will do it without the indenture.". The critical part is that you're not refusing the training itself. You're refusing only the indenture. Often, you can be fired for refusing to develop your work-related skills, but this is not the case here and you should make that part very clear.

Their rationale here is that it's just another fair deal, both sides gain something valuable: the employee gets the training, the employer gets guaranteed return on their investment. But "valuable" is in the eye of the beholder - if your side of the deal is worthless to you, you have 0 incentive to sign it. All you have to do now it to explain them this part.

They can either back down on requirements or they can sweeten the pot, eg. by adding another training that you actually want. Negotiate.

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    They could also fire you, depending on where you are. – Cullub Aug 21 at 12:00
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    @Cullub Not really. You either are in at-will jurisdiction, so they can always fire you, they don't need a reason, or you are not and then they can't fire you for not taking a deal. They could fire you if you refused training, but you're not refusing training, you're refusing indenture. – Agent_L Aug 21 at 14:02
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    Given that you are effectively suggesting that the OP and company negotiate the deal, another possibility is for the OP to offer to repay the training cost on a pro-rated basis, if the OP leaves within 12 months (e.g. at 3 months it would be 75%, 6 months 50%, etc.). The company currently looks at it as worthwhile to pay for the training if they have the OP's service for a year. Given that, it makes sense that they would feel that paying half the price of the training was worth having the OP's service for 6 months. After all, the benefit of the training doesn't just disappear after 1 year. – Makyen Aug 21 at 16:38
  • They don't need to "fire you for refusing the training." They would have a much easier time in front of an Industrial Tribunal if they fired you for "not being qualified to do the work you were hired to do" - with the objective evidence that you are not trained, and have refused training. Companies don't train anyone in order to benefit the trainees - they do it to benefit the company. Of course the trainee may benefit indirectly (job promotion, higher salary, etc) but that is not the purpose of the training! – alephzero Aug 21 at 19:29
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    @alephzero And your logic sounds to me as: "Give me all your money or you get shot. If you don't give money, it means you've agreed to getting shot.". – Agent_L Aug 22 at 7:09

To pick the only point that is actually answerable in our current format:

I've been told this is a 'standard' requirement 'these days', is that true?

Yes, that is pretty standard. Many companies do that, for all training and all employees. This is not about you or your specific training, this is likely a company-wide policy.

As for the actual decision? We cannot take that for you. You will have to decide how you want to proceed. You can take it or leave it, you seem to have the right idea about where your decision will lead you.

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    A standard like this sounds area or country specific. Where does this apply to? I have never heard of it, being located in Scandinavia. – Therkel Aug 21 at 8:27
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    Might be standard for you, uncommon in other areas and even illegal in yet some others. – PlasmaHH Aug 21 at 8:35
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    Unlike it seems most others here - (1) I have never heard of this (2) it seems utterly incredible. If someone suggested this to me, i would fall over laughing while walking out. – Fattie Aug 21 at 9:33
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    It is absolutely not “standard” for anything less than a company sponsored MBA. For a 1-week course? No chance. This is in the UK. – Gaius Aug 21 at 9:51
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    Maybe I didn't make clear what I meant with "standard". What I meant is that it indeed is a practice companies are using. Not every company. Maybe even not a single company in your country, I cannot possibly know about all 195 countries in the world. But this is a thing, it's not something a malevolent boss came up with giggling evilly in his basement on a rainy Sunday afternoon to torture the OP specifically. Companies may do it, it's not unheard of, generally speaking. – nvoigt Aug 21 at 10:08

I was in a similar predicament just 2 months ago. Except I was wholehearted planning to leave ASAP.

I work in software development. I was to go on training overseas and was expected to sign the usual 12 month contract. I was completely willing and eager to do the training, but seeing as I was actively searching for a new job I was reluctant to be tied down. So I phoned my trade union for advice.

They advised me to sign the contract but delete the tie-down clause. You may not refuse training, but they may not force you into an indenture.

Jurisdiction: South Africa.

In European countries where I worked it's legal and it's done by many companies. Personally I have signed such an agreement twice in two years while working in the Netherlands, and the clause was to refund 100% of the training cost upon leaving within 1 year, 66% upon leaving within 2 years, 33% upon leaving within 3 years. The decision to leave has to be on my side, if the company decides to terminate my employment I am not due to refund anything.

If it's legal and you still want to leave the company, you can ask your new employer to cover that as part of the negotiation. Since these training allowances are common, it's also not unheard of for the companies, too.

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    I don't think you should make such broad statements about Europe. Europe is a continent with pretty diverse labor legislation in its countries. E.g., in Germany, if such a clause is legally binding depends on specifics, although it is legal in principle. – Roland Aug 21 at 8:34
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    Seems like this only applies to the Netherlands? In Belgium for example this practice was/is common, but illegal and cannot be enforced (when dealing with employees - things differ for freelance work). – ElGringoMagnifico Aug 21 at 9:56
  • I'm unsure why people always question if a contract is "legal" or "enforceable." By signing a contract, with terms, you legally agree with it. You should either remove the terms you don't agree with, or don't sign it at all. I don't know of any court, in any country or continent that would ignore a contract you signed and agree with, regardless if the terms are enforceable, unless you signed it when you were impaired or threat of life or limbs. In every contract case, it's a choice and voluntarily signed, then it is a binding contract of all terms and conditions. – Dan Aug 21 at 13:57
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    @Dan That is incorrect. No contracts can take away your statutory rights. For example, in the UK the statutory minimum paid leave for a full-time employee is 28 days. If you sign a contract that says you are granted 5 days only, that wouldn't be enforceable, and the company would probably get in trouble for it. – John Aug 21 at 15:04
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    @Dan No, no, no. In many jurisdictions (including the Czech Republic), if a work contract contains a clause that's against the law and is beneficial for the employer, the clause is invalid. Not the whole contract, that's still valid; just the clause. And even if you know the clause is against the law and you sign the contract, it's the same, so you can legally use your knowledge of the law against the employer, if you wish. Remember that laws have very different fundamentals in different countries. – yo' Aug 21 at 16:34

It amazes me employers still try this.

I first saw this about 25 years ago. Back when videotape was a primary medium for broadcasting, maintaining and doing regular overhauls on professional VideoTape Recorders was a skill that many of us in broadcast engineering ended up needing.

One of the major manufacturers offered a course/certification in this, and a lot of broadcasters sent their engineers. Now to be clear: This was a transferable skill. This manufacturer was the "default" and their equipment was probably about 60% of the installation base in the US.

The only company I know who ever tried to "push" for the training repayment (signed, too) in court was a religious broadcaster in Missouri, and they lost - spectacularly.

10 years ago this might have been something to worry about. Today, the demand for skilled employees is so high in EVERY field that it's amazing this is still being pushed around, and a company that tried to sue an employee over it would be crucified in the trade press.

Personally, I would decline any offer with this rider. It's not only obviously heavy-handed, but it makes it quite clear that they put no value on you as a skilled employee, and your only "value" to them is what they provide to you. These agreements are insulting at their core and, as I said, I'm amazed they're still around.

Imagine you looked around for new jobs, and one company would offer you an excellent job if you only had training X. And the old company offers exactly that training. They very understandably don't want to pay for your training, and then you leave and the new company gets the training for free.

So the situation is not uncommon. You could reasonably expect the new company to pay for the cost, since they are the ones benefitting from your training.

An exception would be some very company specific training that isn't going to help you in any over job. Let's say your company had software created specifically for them and nobody else in the world uses it, and training in the use of that software will not help anywhere, then I wouldn't like to pay for that training.

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    It seems OP believes that the last paragraph does apply to him: "I'm not convinced the training is necessary, I believe it will benefit my organisation a lot more than it will benefit my career" – Michael Aug 21 at 10:45

If you don't want to commit for 12 months you might be able to negotiate a lower duration of the repayment period.

I have a clause in my current work contract, that I have to repay every training I recieved in the last 6 months. The first version of the contract also suggested 12 months. As I was not willing to commit for that long, I just asked my employer if they could lower this to 6 months. They sent me a new contract without any disuccsion.

It is a reasonable requirement. The problem is that it's vague. It should state what the cost of the training would be, and it should include exceptions that would be acceptable reasons for leaving. The cases mentioned in the other answers where courts disallowed the requirements were instances where there were no exceptions for serious illnesses, urgent family business, and so forth. Your "personal life ... in a severe state of flux" could result in situations that deserve an exception.

I think you are overthinking this one.

If you don't plan on leaving I don't see why not take the training and sign that agreement.

Surely, if you don't sign it expect them not to give you such training, and if not taking it could make things harder for you then even more reason to take it.

Worst case, if you leave for another (better) job chances are you can cover the expenses, or in some cases even negotiate with the new company to pay for it (if they really want you, that is).

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Aug 21 at 16:58

I agree with the above answers, my previous employer had a process whereby they would reduce the amount payable for each month into that 12 month period.

In regards to an employee of over 7 years not being considered a flight risk. This isn’t strictly true and you’re going down the road of discriminating employees who haven’t been there as long. If you didn’t sign it and left without paying and an employee left who hadn’t been there 7 years and had to pay, it wouldn’t really be fair on the other employees part.

Yes, this is quite a normal (and fair) proposition in some companies in some countries. It is difficult without more context to know if you are being reasonable.

They are offering you what they see as a benefit to you and them which will incur significant expense to them and which will be lost should you leave before making use of it for them.

So the offer can be seen as fair if the training genuinely is of benefit to your career beyond this company.

However, if you do not see the benefit to your career, and you do not want to take the risk, then you can do a couple of things:

  1. Decline the training.
  2. Propose alternative training of similar or lesser cost which will carry the same "penalty" should you choose to leave early. This training will be of clear benefit to your career beyond the company - but unless it is also of clear benefit to the company, you cannot expect them to be interested in paying for it. In addition, they have to consider whether granting your request will have follow-on consequences with other employees.

In each case above there is a chance the company may see you as being unreasonable and not to be counted on for the long term, but without knowing more about the specific training offer and your career goals it is difficult to assess whether that is so.

  • Downvoters: please clarify where this answer is incorrect or could be improved, cheers. – Stacker Lee Aug 22 at 11:05

It seems reasonable to your employer to ask you to pay for training, either in services rendered by working for them for a year, or in cash. So, if you simply refuse the requirement, you will be perceived as unreasonable. And if you are perceived as unreasonable, yes, it will indeed stifle your career there.

However, I don't quite get why you say that if you accept the deal, you won't be taking the training. That I wouldn't do, because any deal needs to have consideration for both parties. I don't see, either, why providing training that doesn't benefit you will benefit the organization in any way. So, if this really is the situation, there's a management issue which you can perhaps bring — diplomatically — to management's attention and get a pass.

It sounds to me like you're a bit angry that you haven't been consulted on how you feel about taking the training, after putting in seven years. That's understandable, but in the end it's also counterproductive.

If you can't get past taking the training in your mind, you may want to go with your instincts and start looking for another job.

  • "I don't see, either, why providing training that doesn't benefit you will benefit the organization in any way." Non-transferable skills. Most of the things I learned at my previous job are not useful at all at my current job. In contrast, most of the stuff I'm learning at my current job should be transferable and I expect to use a lot of it at any future job. But it just depends on the job / company. – industry7 Aug 21 at 19:00
  • @industry7 Non-transferable skills, presumably, are applicable in the present position, and as such a benefit to the trainee. – BobRodes Aug 21 at 20:04
  • Fundamentally, if the skills won't be useful after I leave the company, then I see it as only benefiting the company, not myself. If I can't use those skills after I leave the company, then all the time and effort put into developing those skills is wasted. Furthermore, not only am I not getting any benefit for my effort, but there's also the opportunity cost. If I had not been wasting my time with non-transferable skills, I could have been learning transferable skills that would actually benefit me. – industry7 Aug 22 at 15:18
  • @industry7 I guess I see it differently. If I need certain skills to do the job I'm in to the best of my ability, I see it as a benefit to me to have those skills, because it is a benefit to me to do the job to the best of my ability. That in itself is a transferable skill. Your attitude comes across as someone who is marking time in the position he is in until he can jump ship for the job he truly wants. You can make a career out of that, and look back and realize that you never found that job. – BobRodes Aug 23 at 16:18
  • It's not about marking time, and it's not about jumping ship to the job I really want. It's about the fact that I don't NEED to work at my current job. I can work anywhere I WANT to. In contrast, your attitude comes across as someone who is desperate and has no other job options, or maybe someone who has other options but doesn't realize it because they've internalized their (perceived) position as a "wage-slave". – industry7 Aug 23 at 19:29

I have been in this situation before, and have spoken to a lot of people regarding this topic.

It's legal for the company to require you to sign, however that doesn't necessarily mean you would have to pay the training fees back in the event that you leave within the specified time frame. A contract can be considered unfair (and therefore non-enforceable) regardless of whether you signed it or not.

There are two high-profile cases ongoing at the moment in the UK concerning these types of companies, one of which I used to work for.

If you live in Europe, and particularly the UK, my advice would be to sign it and forget about that clause. If you really need to leave, they can't make you pay the 'training fees' back. I know people who have successfully done this without repercussion.

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    Your implication that a recovery of training costs based on a fair assessment of loss to the company is unenforceable is false. In the Capita case, it's because the fees are clearly unreasonable attempts to tie people down. FYI, losing a month's wages and suing your employer isn't super fun even if you're right. – Nathan Cooper Aug 21 at 11:54
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    Signing terms to a contract is binding because when you sign something, it says that you clearly understood the terms and conditions and you are agreeing to them. Unless you can prove you were under threat of life or that you were impaired somehow, a signed contract carries a lot of weight against you. It's far better to simply NOT sign it at all. The cost of proving you are "right" would far exceed the cost of simply paying it back. – Dan Aug 21 at 14:14
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    Also, the company may ultimately decide it is not worth the legal fees to recover the cost. Maybe the training was minor and small and pursuing it is unwise for the company's resource. That doesn't mean you "got away with it" or that it won't later bite you. Simply NOT signing something is the smartest choice or removing the clause and initiating it would be the smartest choice. – Dan Aug 21 at 14:19
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    If I'd simply NOT signed my contract, I wouldn't have an above average earning job for my age, in a developing industry with multiple career paths and plenty of scope for specialization. Sometimes it's worth it. And no, in the UK it doesn't matter whether you signed something or not. If it's an unfair clause it doesn't apply, end of story. Consumer Rights Act 2015. – Korthalion Aug 21 at 15:08
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    I wouldn't suggest 'forgetting' about it. The one time you do that might be the one time the employer really will fight to get it back. – Daniel James Aug 21 at 16:39

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