About 4 months ago I started a job and quit after a month due to a ton of awful things about the organization that aren't relevant here. Today I received in the mail a letter from the company stating that I owe them money, around $5500, for time spent training me, and $1500 for a software license for AutoCAD they bought for me.

They said since I quit before I was able to provide income for the company, I'm responsible for reimbursing their costs. I can post an anonymized copy of the letter if it's needed, but I can't seriously be held responsible for this, right?

I never signed anything saying that I'd owe them money if I quit - I have a copy of the signed employee agreement with nothing anywhere close to that in it. The AutoCAD license was installed on a work computer that never went home with me and I returned everything they gave me on my last day, down to the free shirt and water bottle.

Should I respond that I'm not paying, or just ignore this?

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    Welcome to TheWorkplace! Please note this is not place to look for legal advice. There is LawStackExchange for general questions related to law, but please look for a professional to give you legal advice and help. Nonetheless, we can share advice here in terms on wheter this is normal/usual or not. AFAIK it isn't unless you had signed specific contracts with clauses warning you about the training costs. You might want to reach the company that licensed AutoCAD for you and try to work things out, as your former company will likely still need a license. Goodwill now can make everything easier. – Mefitico Mar 29 '19 at 16:37
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    Can you add a country tag? – ventsyv Mar 29 '19 at 18:45
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    Just to be sure: Did your contract allow you to quit and did you serve your notice period, if required? – Mateusz Stefek Mar 30 '19 at 7:11
  • Red flag : AutoCAD in your name, not theirs? Were you officially an employee, or were you off the books as an intern/were they selling you these products out of your "Salary". Sounds like wage theft to me. Do you have a bona fide letter of offer, and can they pin any misrepresentation of facts upon your application? – mckenzm Mar 30 '19 at 22:25

Your question was,

I can't seriously be held responsible for this, right?

Based on what you said here,

I never signed anything saying that I'd owe them money if I quit - I have a copy of the signed employee agreement with nothing anywhere close to that in it. The AutoCAD license was installed on a work computer that never went home with me and I returned everything they gave me on my last day, down to the free shirt and water bottle.

Then I think the answer is pretty clearly, no. You can't be held responsible. It is sometimes the case that employment contracts include terms for reimbursement of specific expenses or repayment of specific types of benefits (ie an employer that pays for you to go get your Masters degree may have terms in your contract stating that you need to pay them back if you quit within a certain time frame), but that is apparently not the case for you.

It seems like your best course of action is to ignore the request. Any response you make may be seen by them as grounds to continue to push you. If they escalate, it would be appropriate for you to do so as well (ie get a lawyer involved). Otherwise, I would not acknowledge their request in any way.

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    Ignoring things like this does not make the problem magically go away. – Mark Rotteveel Mar 30 '19 at 11:26
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    @MarkRetteveel Actually, it sometimes does. – Michael Kay Mar 30 '19 at 13:53
  • This is spot-on other than ignoring the request. A polite, firmly-worded letter by registered post stating that to his/her knowledge he/she didn't agree to such reimbursement, and politely asking where specifically they believe that is in the contract, should be sufficient. If they reply at all, it'll be with blather and nonsense. A second reply stating that as he/she has not had any specifics from the company as requested he/she continues to believe there's no agreement for reimbursement will probably go unanswered. Obviously, carefully document and keep all originals, along with copies. – T.J. Crowder Mar 30 '19 at 18:24

Oh, keep this, and your signed agreement in a very secure location.

Depending on your location, you may be needing them for a civil suit. Your employer will probably end up wishing that it only cost them $7000.

FWIW: I am inferring the U.S. because of the currency denomination. You might want to specify a location tag.

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    @outerviewer make sure you keep every piece of documentation that you have - I had a letter that stated a date that solved an argument with a senior manager - he wanted to backdate my apprenticeship by 4 months to finish me early and save 4 months money... That one letter stopped him (He was not happy :) ) – Solar Mike Mar 29 '19 at 15:26

I can't seriously be held responsible for this, right?

Right. It's a bluff to see if you would pay anyway.

Should I respond that I'm not paying, or just ignore this?

I would respond once and only once with something like:

"Since my employment agreement said nothing about being required to reimburse any training expenses if I left, I will not do so.

The AutoCAD license was installed and remains on a company computer. The computer was returned when I left. I am not responsible for the cost of this license and will not provide any reimbursement."

Then I would not respond to subsequent letters, although I would keep copies of everything.

In the unlikely event you are sued, make sure you have all the relevant facts and copies of all correspondence. I have a hard time imagining they would waste their time doing so, and an even harder time imagining they could win.

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    In a case like this where the company is so out of line, is it even in the OPs interest to respond? I sort of feel that doing so adds some legitimacy to the claim by acknowledging that it exists in the first place. – Peter M Mar 29 '19 at 19:03
  • Is it possible that besides a desire for repayment, there is also an element of harassment or vindictiveness? – trognanders Mar 29 '19 at 19:15
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    If you were to respond at all, wouldn't it be better to just ask for evidence of a debt and nothing more? The more you say the more chance there is that you'll give them something that'll help them later (like an acknowledgement that training and software licences existed at all) or make a mistake of some kind. And if they don't respond to a question like that, well, maybe that's useful if you live somewhere where courts don't like litigants who refuse to talk to each other first. – Alex Hayward Mar 29 '19 at 21:10
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    @Neinstein For me its not about approval/disapproval of the claim, but instead engaging vs not engaging the ex-company in the first place. By engaging them your are acknowledging that they do have a claim (regardless of its legitimacy), and doing so empowers them to press you more for a resolution in their favor. (remember that this is a bogus claim in the first place so the ex-company is not acting rationally from the start - and this will not change no matter how rational you are) – Peter M Mar 30 '19 at 11:20
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    @PeterM Stating that you will not do something and the reason you are not obligated to do so cannot be construed as legitimizing a claim in any halfway reasonable court of law. The example text is very clear and explicit on these points. Misconstruing it as you describe is so obviously wrong that I would not expect even a court to be able to screw up that badly. – jpmc26 Mar 30 '19 at 18:36

You don't have to do a thing, but there are ways to handle it. In some countries like the US, it may be better to stay silent or ask a lawyer (which costs!), because the law can be very harsh and expensive if done wrong. If you're more sure of writing, then you can probably sort this out yourself.

I'll sum up what I'd expect is a good approach, but you may choose to do nothing and "wait and see", or ask a lawyer, in some places.

How the law sees it

When a business enters a contract, it is assumed that they know what they are doing. A private individual often gets more protection, because they often don't. (Which is why consumer and employment law often strongly favour the consumer/employee).

Your company knew when they employed you, that they wanted certain conditions as part of that employment. They knew you could leave on certain terms, and accepted that. In fact, they probably told you (dictated to you?) what those terms would be. They actually chose them, themselves.

When they bought you software, or trained you, they knew you had that right to leave. If they wanted to make training or purchases conditional on you staying, or chargeable if you didn't, then they had every chance in the world to say if that mattered to them. They could have written it in the original contract (it was only 4 months ago so they surely had some idea of what they'd do!). They could have asked you at the time to sign an additional agreement that you wouldn't leave for a year or would repay if you did, in return for this stuff they were about to do. They didn't do any of that, and they had the choice, the ability, and the awareness to do so. So they can't now look to you, to cover up their failure. They knew they had given you a right to leave without repaying, when they did all that, so they can hardly expect you to voluntarily repay if you take them up on the rights they signed with you.

Put differently, every contract carries risk. If you want to not have a risk, you don't agree to contracts that have the risks in them, that you aren't willing to agree to - much less author those contracts. They didn't want to expose themselves to a risk of investing in someone, only to have them leave after 4 months? Then they shouldn't have signed a contract by which they voluntarily put themselves in that position with their employee.

A second way a court will look at it, for the license at least, is to ask if the company actually lost anything. Presumably they hired you because they needed someone to do work that would involve AutoCAD. They surely didn't buy it as a luxury! So presumably that work still exists. So they'll be able to use the license for their next hire.

After all, every employee who walks, could be sued if that basis were valid. You walked out after a week, and your job was inputting data from invoices? Well, we had to take time to recruit you, train you, get you a desk and chair, pay for the floor space you took up, pay for a computer and those internal support time you needed from IT to get it working.....

No. Just no. It doesn't work that way.

What to do

As I said, you may choose to wait, or get advice. But if you intended to write, you would want to write in a way that has a high chance of shutting them up :)

I tend to write strongly, and you may not feel comfortable doing so (and it may in fact be very unwise in some countries or situations to do so, or to not get legal advice). I'm also used to UK laws and legal frameworks where writing this way is a pretty safe bet, which might not apply where you are.

But if you did want to write or handle it yourself, and felt it was safe and you were confident to do so, this is roughly what I'd say, so you can pick the key points and use them as you feel best.

Something like this:

"Dear X,

I am in receipt of your letter of Xx March 2019, which looks to me like a simple attempt to extort money without good grounds.

I was employed under a contract. That contract was authored by Y Inc. itself, and the terms were chosen by and agreeable to Y Inc. The contract stated my rights to leave, and what happens when I leave. I attach a copy for your reference.

If you believe that the contract states that I must pay any sums on training or software you bought as an employer, I would appreciate you citing the paragraphs that contain those agreements. You will find no such agreement, of course, which means I do not expect to be troubled by you again on this spurious claim.

Having set out the contractual situation, I now consider this matter permanently closed. I reserve all of my rights to consider any further attempt to seek payment of this kind, or other adverse action taken in lieu, as likely to be an extortion attempt or other illegal action, and reserve my rights to seek any combination of legal advice, compensation or to report it as a police matter. I may also choose to ignore unfounded claims, if any.

Kindly do not write again.

Signed, Z."

[The "other adverse action" and "other illegal action" is in case they try to blacken your name or make harmful claims in revenge, which some might consider. But I haven't said that explicitly since we don't need to give them foolish ideas. Also note the thin line in defamation law - it is usually very safe to say "It looks to me like X", because that's a true statement of honestly held opinion, but it's much less safe to say "it is X", which claims a true statement absolutely]

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    IMHO stating "which looks to me like a simple attempt to extort money without good grounds" is both unnecessary and potentially damaging to the OP as it is pure speculation and will only act to aggravate the ex-company - even though you have a disclaimer. Personally I would leave out all speculation and only state provable facts. – Peter M Mar 30 '19 at 1:43
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    This, or ignoring it, are the only correct responses. These people are assholes and need to be told off, without actually using the word "asshole". @PeterM - "looks to me" is the clause that gets you out of jail here. You don't make a factual claim, you report your interpretation. – Tom Mar 30 '19 at 3:19
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    @Peter M - I agree. Except, when certain of my ground and wanting them to have no illusion how it may be interpreted, it can be useful to name it for what it is (or at least, what it seems to oneself to be, to avoid accusations of defaming!). It tends to have a sobering effect and suppress the urge to go full-on idiot by a hotheaded and bullying owner/manager/director, and shows that you may bite back and they may be treading on dangerous ground. Also much more likely they'll seek advice too, in which case a lawyer will tell them you're basically right, which will help calm it a lot. – Stilez Mar 30 '19 at 10:21
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    @Tom Compare telling a mother "Your kid is ugly" vs "I think your kid is ugly". While the latter may have the "get out of jail card" it is going to be hard for the mother to initially differentiate between the two statements. Thus creating unnecessary bad feeling (and giving the mother reason to do something stupid) . And by knowingly doing so to the ex-company you are stooping to their level of asshole-ness. Thats why IMHO you should always keep it professional on you end and keep your actions above reproach. – Peter M Mar 30 '19 at 11:03
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    @Stilez While the company will eventually get a reality check I think that speculating (and it is speculating - as you have no idea what is going on at the ex-company) on their motives will act to push their buttons and give them license to go even more full on idiot in the short term. For all you know you may encounter a manager that says "screw what the lawyer advises - I want to see this prick in court just because he is pissing me off". So its not the destination I am trying to avoid, but an un-desirable and unnecessary side trip to legal hell. – Peter M Mar 30 '19 at 11:11

If you have no documentation stating that you owe them this money (in your contract/employment agreement/etc), then tell them as such: "I never agreed to this, go shove it" (depending on how you feel about this company, I might be tempted to use those exact words) and do not respond to any further communique. If they continue to "shout into the void", as it were, you may want to contact a lawyer regarding harassment.

If you feel like being extra cheeky though, you may want to suggest, at least, if you have to pay $1500 for the AutoCAD subscription, then it should be your property. Issue them a notice to have your AutoCAD license transferred to you on threat of a lawsuit for stolen property, and see what they say. Of course, this is likely to not work out in the way you hope it will, so only do it if you feel like being cheeky and having some fun with a possible potential downside cost down the road. I don't actually recommend doing this, I just think it would be funny to hear their response.

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    I think this advice is entertaining, but so so unprofessional. Be better than them (i.e. not a child). If you're going to stop responding to them after telling them to "shove it", then just don't respond to begin with. What do you aim to gain by starting a confrontation? Same with the AutoCAD license - so you ask them to transfer the license to you and they agree. Now what? You are still out $1500. – Catsunami Mar 29 '19 at 16:48
  • Agreed cheeky is all but never the professional answer. There is some professional merit though in the concept that if they expect someone to pay for resources they purchased for them, those resources must be transferred or at minimum prorated back for the unusable portion. – SemiGeek Mar 29 '19 at 16:54
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    Yeah, the AutoCAD thing in particular is horrible advice. If the boss wants to screw you over, they'll instantly agree. Suddenly, you went from "Not legally required to pay anything" to "Agreeing to buy an instance of AutoCAD for $1500 that you weren't planning on." After all, it doesn't cost the boss anything to take your $1500 and just buy another license. – Kevin Mar 29 '19 at 19:15
  • @Kevin I agree that that is horrible advice. As a CAD administrator, though, it would be really difficult and painstaking to transfer a license. While you can give anyone a product key, it is tied to a contract - a contract that likely has multiple Autodesk licenses. To really transfer ownership would probably involve direct assistance from Autodesk... good luck with that. – EJE Mar 29 '19 at 19:23

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