“I work for a company in San Jose, CA and I would like to ask for some legal advice in regards to my employer’s training fee contract. My employer has asked me to sign a contract stating that for a specific time after the initial training, if I quit or were to be fired, I am required to reimburse the company for the training fees. My question is: 1. Is such contract legal for this company to make me sign? 2. If I did sign such a contract, am I legally accountable and liable to reimburse the company for the training fees if I were to quit or to be fired? I ask because I am thinking of quiting this company and I wonder if this contract is legal or not. If there is a need, I can forward you the exact contract that I have signed so you can better understand the contract and give legal advise. I hope you can help me. If you were not the one to contact for this type of information, can you advise me on where or how I can get more information.”
Generally speaking, such restrictions are not at all uncommon, especially in Silicon Valley where many industries require highly trained workers, and invest millions in keeping those workers trained on the latest techniques. Many employers will help new or current employees with educational expenses but in turn will require the employee to stay at that company for a period of time in order to make sure they get their money’s worth from the investment in that employee’s new education. It’s a matter of fairness.
Indeed, signing such a contract encourages the company to continue investing in the education of their employees, which can be a “win-win” situation for everyone involved. As a matter of fairness and public policy, a court could certainly uphold the validity of such an agreement in order to continue encouraging companies to invest in their workers’ educations.
You would need to have an attorney specializing in employee rights issues review the contract to assess its enforceability. But generally, if you sign the contract with the intent to breach it, such behavior can be considered a form of fraud and you would have a difficult time convincing a court that you shouldn’t be held liable.
Even without such a contract, a court might make you reimburse some amount of those educational expenses as a matter of fairness if you grabbed your freshly earned certificate and ran for the door. Alternatively, you might not be held liable if they fired you without cause or laid you off, but if you quit or tried to get yourself fired, it’s certainly possible that a court could find you liable for some portion of the course fees.
If you are thinking of quitting the company, simple fairness says you should not ask them to pay for training costs that they’ll never the benefit of. Similarly, common sense says that if you’re already looking for the exit, you really shouldn’t be considering signing any agreements that are based on you staying put.