The situation is as follows:

  • The company I'm currently working at has been providing for a couple years now a "certification reward". Being an IT company it obviously values having certified employees in different fields (web development, databases, SAP etc.) so it offers to repay the application fees after an employee passes any certification from their list of pre-approved ones. When you do it you additionality get a small salary raise (25-50 US$ in my countries' currency).
  • Certifications however usually cost 200 US$ or upwards and require additional costs such as traveling, as I live in a big country with very few online test centers where you can take tests like these. Needless to say very few people can afford that (the average salary in the company is around 400 US$) so in our unit there's maybe 5 certified employees out of 100.
  • As our market is very aggressive and the company wants to differentiate itself, management now decided everyone needs to have at least one certification. Meetings were called to make the rules clear and the deadline is 4 months from now (2 months for team leaders). Some don't even have a choice as to which certification to pursue, and are facing the idea of paying, for example, 1000 US$ now to take the Zend certification because they were hired to work with PHP. They will only get the application fees back when they pass, remember.
  • It was explicitly said that trainees won't be hired unless they do it, and it was heavily implied, although management couldn't say it out loud due to strict workplace regulations in the country, that those without certifications after the deadline will be undesirable for the company.
  • It is a company with more than a thousand employees, and it's no stranger to massive layoffs.

How to react in a situation like that? Is it even appropriate what they're doing?

  • 2
    Your employer's ethics and legality aside -- if you get reimbursed after passing the test, it's actually a good deal. Your company is helping you become a more marketable employee to other companies in the future. If you can obtain quality studies at a low cost (and there are free resources online, of varying quality, for almost every IT-related job) to adequately prepare for the test, this could be a good opportunity for you.
    – Pedro
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 3:18
  • Related to this question which is from the employer's POV: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/9659/… Commented May 31, 2016 at 3:25
  • 3
    "How to react in a situation like that?" How should we know if you don't mention what you want to accomplish? Answers require a question.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 8:03
  • What your company is doing is reprehensible. No one can say whether this is legal or not in your jurisdiction since you haven't told us which jurisdiction you're in. That being said, most certification companies don't change their answers frequently at all. So it shouldn't be a problem for most of your employees to just find the previous answers to those tests on file-sharing networks, memorize the answers, and then pass those tests very easily. Commented May 31, 2016 at 10:07
  • You guys should organize together, the employees and decide not taking this path and negotiate with the managers. They can't lay off all of you.
    – lambdapool
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 12:17

4 Answers 4


My guess is that most people won't be able to do it, and the bosses will have to decide between mass layoff (I doubt they can find certified replacements) and coming up with a more reasonable way to get people certified. All that is really needed is a certified examiner, a secure room, and an internet connection for online certification tests. The company would be better advised to get one of these people in for a few days.

So if you can't afford to do what you're asked to do, then don't worry too much, most other people there probably can't afford it either, and I doubt certified human resources are actually that easily available for the company to get rid of everyone.

If you can afford to do it, then do so, it's an investment in your career which the company will partially reimburse you for and which you can use anywhere. The certification belongs to you, not the company.


I think in general you'll have to get the certifications. If there's no choice but to travel, I'd talk to your manager and explain the cost to travel is not something you can absorb, and see if they will pay for it. A reasonable employer will work with you to figure this out. You don't give your country, but I believe this would be ok in the USA, even if you had to pay for everything yourself. The job now requires this certification, so you'll have to get it or be terminated, if that's what you're being told.

  • I did want to get a country-agnostic view of the matter, as in my country regulations make it very tricky for bosses to enforce rules and employees sometimes feel entitled.
    – nyugati
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 0:43
  • @nyugati I think unfortunately this will vary by county as labor laws are hardly universal, but hopefully other answers will give other perspectives.
    – Andy
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 0:49
  • @nyugati - what country it that? Commented May 31, 2016 at 13:07
  • This doesn't sound like it will end well for the OP. His company seems to be located where employee protections are non existent and they also do not seem to be required to pay for this training as they would in many countries with better employee protections. Commented May 31, 2016 at 14:21
  • @BillLeeper If an employer requires a college degree for a position, would they be required to pay for that as well? The fact of the matter is that employees which get these certificates take them with them when they leave. Its not unheard of in the US to have to repay the employer (usually prorated) if they leave within a certain amount of time after paying for such training, as you can't unlearn something.
    – Andy
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 21:43

I have two points on this, one from a german perspective, and some advice.

In my country, this would be highly illegal and impossible to enforce. You can't do anything like that, lest the company pay for all of it, in advance, without contingencies. Your countries labor laws may vary, drasticly. In the US, for instance, your employer would mostly be well in their rights to sack you for any reason, or no reason.

Now, for some advice: Take advantage of this as much as you can. It may seem counterintuitive, but the fact that they will reimburse certification costs are amazing for you, and you should strive to afford as many useful certifications as you can. Its going to make you not only more valueable for this particular company, but also for the next. Thats a great chance to move up the ladder and earn more.

  • In the US if an employer requires training such as this, they have to pay for it and any reasonable travel expenses. Additionally since this was formally communicated there is ample evidence for wrongful termination should the employee not obtain the certification because the employer did not pay. Commented May 31, 2016 at 14:24
  • 1
    @BillLeeper IIRC, in most states of the US you can be terminated because of that, and you could also be terminated for wearing blue shoes today. Is getting a cert somehow a protected class? Employment in the US is all At-will, right? IANAL though, and not even american, so take this with a grain of salt
    – Magisch
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 14:25
  • it is about documentation. If an employer says you have to do something and then doesn't fulfill their responsibilities it is a violation of employment law. If this happened the lawyer would roll out all the meetings and emails the company sent, any rejections the employee received to pay for it and then all the other people let go at the same time for the same reason. While someone could be let go without cause, having documentation of a cause would give something for a lawyer to work with. These don't come up often though because the payout is rather low for the lawyer. Commented May 31, 2016 at 14:29
  • US law varies wildly from state to state, and industry to industry. Try to get a public employee fired. Barring an act of God, it's nearly impossible. IT employees, on the other hand don't even keep green bananas in the work fridge. Commented May 31, 2016 at 17:12
  • 1
    @BillLeeper That's just not how at-will employment works. In the US someone can sue a company for anything and everything including being "unfairly dismissed" even though US employment law has no such concept.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 18:47

Adding to other answers, since the company wants you to get the certificates, you could suggest to your management that even if they don't want to pay for travel etc. they could give out loans to those who want to certify and cannot afford that, and then keep pay rises due to certification back to pay for the loan.

So instead of finding $400 in your empty pocket, getting the certificate, getting a $25 rise, the company would lend you the $400 (possibly pay for tickets etc. directly to avoid being ripped off), you get your $25 rise, but you don't see any of that money until after 16 months when the $400 is paid back.

And it's not uncommon to have a deal where the employer pays everything, and the employee signs to stay with the company for a certain time.

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