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My friend Jim is a full-time employee at Company X. Recently, he was handed a document by the company, stating that he has to complete a number of online courses each year, in order to get the expected yearly raise. Plus, he has to pay for the courses himself, and work on them outside working hours. He has the option not to sign the document, with the consequence being a 60% reduced yearly raise.

The document was handed to all the entry level employees, not just Jim

What can Jim do about this nonsense? Is this even legal in Germany?

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    Is the yearly bonus in his contract, or is it a real bonus? Given that a bonus is generally a bonus, the company is under no obligation to hand it out, unless that's written down somewhere. – Erik Jan 23 at 12:06
  • Also, how is the company "forcing" Jim to do this? Has anything been said or done outside "you need to do this if you want the full bonus"? – Erik Jan 23 at 12:08
  • @Erik sorry I made a spelling mistake. It's not a bonus, it's the expected salary raise for the next year. I edited that in the question. – Snow Jan 23 at 12:13
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    This is a really good and interesting question. Both the legal and "moral" issues are very interesting. – Fattie Jan 23 at 13:18
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    Even if the legal question cannot be answered, it would be good if somebody from a German perspective can answer on whether this is normal - or a "find an employer that treats you better" situation. – Bilkokuya Jan 23 at 13:51
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What can Jim do about this nonsense?

I wouldn't even say it's nonsense. If the proposal is that much of an issue, don't sign the document. Get less pay rise. Simple choice

The option is basically take the courses and get a yearly raise or don't take the courses and get 40% of the yearly raise. Up to Jim really, if he wants to invest in himself potentially learn something and get a yearly raise then this would be beneficial in most peoples point of views anyway.

is this legal

Since the company is basically providing an offer: Get this skillset/knowledge and receive this offer of extra income. Yes.

It is only illegal if not doing this training affects your position at your company. If this is the case then they must pay for your hours that you spend doing the training but they can still make you pay for the training. However since this is optional, it is not.

For example if you apply for a job and you have a skill they require, that skill is often part of the reason the salary is what it is. If you have a certain level in this skill then your salary is increased.

What the company is offering is get the training and get paid for the training you undertook.

They basically want their staff to be constantly improving on their own, and you'll constantly get a yearly raise.

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    But he has to pay for the courses himself and work on them outside working hours. I think the offer doesn't make sense because even if he signs the form, the normal raise will be ~6% every two years. And if he doesn't sign that, it will go to ~2% every two years. – Snow Jan 23 at 13:01
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    It's like paying for an Open-university course so you can get a promotion at work @Snow You pay and complete. They up your salary – Twyxz Jan 23 at 13:03
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    Do you have a source for your response to the legal question? Have you worked in Germany before? I know that German employment laws can be very different and usually strongly favor workers. I wouldn't want a response to the legal question unless you are very familiar with the laws. – David K Jan 23 at 13:12
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    It is not clear if it is legal - and it very much depends on the jurisdiction. – Fattie Jan 23 at 13:16
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    @Snow I would prefer to think that he'll get an early rise of 2% anyway, BUT if he takes the course that number will bump up to 6%. It isn't a penalty, it is a bonus. – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Jan 23 at 19:26
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I can't speak to the legality of it, but what Jim can do is consider the economics and answer this question: "Am I being fairly compensated for what they're asking me to do?"

To keep the math easy, let's say Jim's current salary is €100,000 and the proposed full raise is €10,000. No matter what happens, he gets at least a €4,000 raise. The expenses for taking this training will likely come in post-tax money, so let's figure taxes on the additional €6,000 he'd get for taking this training at 33%, leaving €4,000 to cover the costs:

  • Tuition for the training
  • Transportation, if the training is not held at the office
  • The value of the time spent outside work hours. For something like this, I'd value it at least the same as the hourly rate because it is, effectively, work. If course material is nonsense, add a penalty for the aggravation of having to sit through it.
  • Other expenses, such as meals that would have to be eaten out instead of at home and any supplies required for the training (paper, pens, software).

Once this is figured, whether this puts Jim financially ahead or behind determines whether or not he's being fairly compensated. Ahead is obviously good, and how far ahead he is in total should be used to decide whether or not the raise was good enough to merit staying around. Coming out behind behind is effectively a cut in pay because Jim will have expended more for the same or less income.

  • I don't think he can figure all those points out, because he doesn't know what the courses are and where he's taking them. What makes it worse is that he has to decide about signing the document or not before he knows any details about the courses. But the answer is good nonetheless – Snow Jan 23 at 13:58
  • I get that it was for the sake of keeping the math easy, but I have to say his real salary is more like a third of what you mentioned :) – Snow Jan 23 at 14:03
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    @Snow I could lop off a zero or two. :-) If he's that short on information, he needs to go back to management and tell them they need to give him details so he can make a decision. Of course, he could always sign it and decide for/against it later if the raises are given in arrears. (Which is still bad because he'll be out of his own pocket for quite some time.) – Blrfl Jan 23 at 15:37
  • It is worth to note that the courses are an investment and you'll keep what you learned from them to you, forever. They may be a plus on future jobs! – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Jan 23 at 19:28
  • Some places also let you use education as a tax credit. – Trevor Jan 23 at 21:56
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Any junior in any industry working for any company should / need to expand his starting knowledge and skill-set as a rule, unless he wants to stay at the same junior level forever

Education only gives you initial set of skills to GET the job.

From your explanation, employer company have intensives for the annual amount of knowledge gain.

Tell Jim to learn the skills, take the raise and become a better professional.

IMHO, within a few years he will be able to secure better / higher position for much more pay with additional knowledge he gains.

Whether it is in that company or another one.

  • I too agree that one needs to continue learning new skills and growing their knowledge—and not only juniors. I don't agree with the actions (making employee pay and take the courses outside working hours) that this company is carrying out to achieve their goal. Also, even if he signs, according to the document his salary will be 50k€ in twenty years. And that's not okay imo – Snow Jan 24 at 8:00
  • @Snow Only because compensation is monetary it doesn't mean "Jim" being made to get it. As long as 40% of full raise is within industry standards for annual raise, learning incentive is just what it is "incentive" – Strader Jan 24 at 15:21
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..stating that he has to complete a number of online courses each year... He has the option not to sign the document, the consequence being a 60% reduced yearly raise.

I am not a lawyer (IANAL) but I wouldn't think that this is illegal since they've given him a choice.

Sign the document, take the training, and get a raise that's 250% better1

Don't bother with a cost analysis of the situation... especially for an entry level employee.
Refusing to sign will make Jim look bad.


1That's the math: 1 Euro is 250% more than 0.40 Euro (which is what's left after a 60% reduction)

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