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I attended a training course last year which cost about 12,000 US dollars. Also I signed a 3-year contract which means I need to repay part of training fee if I leave the company within 3 years. But now I realize this contract may be unfair.

I'm a software engineer and the system we are developing needs to communicate with another software. My manager says we need to know more about this software so that we can develop our own system better. He says this course will be about the database structure of this software. But actually this course is about the installation of this software. Before the training we didn't receive any formal introduction about this course. I joined this company about two years ago so when I agreed to attend this training course, I didn't know much about this company. Now I know there's actually another department which is responsible for installing this software. This software is developed by this company and it is used in a particular field which means I'll never use it anywhere else if I leave this company, not to mention it is the installation of the software rather than how to use it.

When I talk about this with my colleagues, everyone thinks this training is ridiculour for software engineers. I've never used any knowledge of that training after that. So I want to know if this training contract is invalid according to the law of the US. Thanks.

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IANAL, but:

I've never used any knowledge of that training after that. So I want to know if this training contract is invalid according to the law of the US.

Almost certainly not, since it's near unheard of for contracts of this nature to allow a "get-out" clause if it doesn't turn out to be useful.

The only potential legal avenue I can think of is if the contract explicitly detailed a description of the course material, and the course delivered was so far off the description of that material that the contract you signed wouldn't apply. However, that's definitely "find a legal expert" material, even with the relevant part of the contract (which isn't supplied in the question.)

In future, I'd be very wary of signing such contracts. If my employer wanted to send me on a training course because it would make me better at my current job, then no chance I'd sign anything - they're getting the benefit, so that's on them. Your example (installation or database structure of some specific piece of software) definitely fits into that category.

If it was a training course I wanted to attend primarily for benefiting my future career, then I might consider signing something like that if I had no intention of leaving in the near future - but it'd have to be an absolutely stellar opportunity to lock me in for 3 years (think a full multi-year degree level qualification.) A training course for a few weeks might be nice, but unlikely I'd agree to lock myself in anywhere over 6 months for something like that - maybe a year at the absolute most.

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  • The contract I signed says nothing about the content of this training. As I mentioned in my question, there was no formal introduction. I know that ‘not useful’ cannot be used as a get-out clause. However, I can understand if this training was about some programming skills I didn’t use in my everyday work because it might still be useful for my future career. But if it is software installation, I can’t understand because it’s just ridiculous. Everyone in my company who knows about my story thinks it’s ridiculous. I agree that I’ll never sign such a training contract in the future. – user113117 Dec 30 '19 at 3:21
  • OP is not asking whether the contract is invalid (even though he asks that directly, but is not what OP means, as the invalid contract would mean he had no job. Common mistake for lay people) but whether the clause for the loan is binding. That doesn't require a "get out" clause at all, just whether the clause satisfies all points required to make a contract in OPs state. So your first 2 paragraphs are materially wrong unless you can provide any sort of citation, or at least preface it that "this is speculation based on X". – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 30 '19 at 11:55
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A few things to consider.

  1. Unless you are actually planning on leaving, the whole thing is a moot point. If you are planning to stay, it's by far the easiest to just sit it out
  2. Read the contract carefully. Typically these things are pro-rated, for example if you leave right away to repay it all, but the repayment amount should decline over time. It also should clearly state what departure reasons trigger the repayment, i.e. it shouldn't kick in when you get terminated or re-assigned.
  3. On first look you are on the hook: you did sign the contract and it doesn't matter whether its fair or unfair of whether the training is useless or not.
  4. On second look, some things are little unusual here: three years is unusually long for this type of agreement, especially if it's not pro-rated. You also state that the training was done for SW that your employer produces. If they also provide the training (as many SW makers do), they would have had to pay the training fee to their own training department, which does look like some insider ploy to create captive employees.
  5. You do NOT want to go to court over this. Being in a lawsuit with your employer is very damaging to your career. It doesn't matter if you win or loose or if you are right or wrong. Most likely the cost & time and aggravation of a lawsuit will also far outweigh the $12000 at stake.
  6. Instead try to build a strong negotiation position. Create bullet proof documentation of all things that happen. Have someone who is familiar with local labor laws look over the contract and flag everything that's unusual or potentially questionable. Get advice from a lawyer or local expert how to "negotiate". That typically involves hinting at potential legal action without actually threatening it. The intended outcome is a "mutually beneficial agreement" which supersedes the original contract and allows you to pay less or nothing. Your leverage is that the company doesn't want to go to court either: it's very expensive and very bad public relations.
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  • Thanks very much for your advice. I don’t want to go to court, either. Hope it can be solved internally. – user113117 Dec 31 '19 at 2:55

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