I have questions about an 'agreement' I've been asked to sign at work.
December 28, 2016 1:22 PM   Subscribe

You are not a (or my) lawyer, but maybe you can give me some relevant info. I have been asked to sign an agreement agreeing to repay my company for a training course that is relevant to my job, if I leave the company within a year. It is fairly standard except that the training course happened about 6 weeks ago. I'm trying to figure out if can be compelled to sign it. Where can I find info that will explain my rights in layman's terms? (I'm in the U.K.)

As I said, these agreements seem standard and I have previously signed one for a similar training event. In that case, the paperwork was sent, signed, and on file before the event. I had the hypothetical option to refuse the agreement and not attend the event.

In this case, I don't have that option because the training day was in early November and the paperwork is dated late December. It seems to me that I shouldn't be forced to sign an agreement with no option to decline or dispute the terms. Again, you are not a lawyer, but can they make me sign this? Is there a relevant bit of UK employment law that spells out employee rights in situations like this?
posted by Eumachia L F to Law & Government (15 answers total)
 
Pay a lawyer.
posted by PMdixon at 1:45 PM on December 28, 2016


IANAL. I'm pretty sure that you cannot be COMPELLED to sign this, but not signing it may cause problems. So it depends on how much you want to avoid rocking the boat.

Maybe send a message like "This training has already passed. I would be happy to sign these types of documents for future trainings, if requested in advance. Thanks so much for all of your help, and Happy New Year!"
posted by cacao at 1:47 PM on December 28, 2016 [10 favorites]


In addition to the question of whether they can make you sign it, there's the question of whether signing it is any way meaningful. As a basic contractual principle, contracts require consideration -- each side of the agreement must get something. You already have the training, so it cannot be consideration in this contract. Which means that even if you sign the contract, it is pretty much legally ineffectual.

There are some caveats to that, though:

The first is that they might simply act on the contract as if it were real take the cost of training out of your final payments if you resign, and then you'd have to go to court to get an order for the money back, which might well cost more than the training was worth. Another is the fact that you've signed this contract before and are therefore aware that this is the typical practice of your employer regarding training opportunities, you might be presumed to have agreed to the essential agreement by taking the training in the first place.

As with all questions of this nature, especially ones that involve your ongoing employment, a lot is going to hinge on what kind of relationship you have with your employers, what kind of relationship you want to have with them, and the very detailed and specific facts surrounding your situation. IANAL, IANYL and if the cost of this training is worth fighting over, it's worth consulting an actual L about.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:32 PM on December 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've signed similar documents for previous jobs, it's a pretty standard thing, but I too would be a bit put out if asked to sign one retroactively. However, unless I would've exercised the hypothetical option to decline the training, I would sign it even though I might not be technically obligated to do so. Not signing it could send a signal that you don't expect to be at that job for that period of time and might get you on the shortlist for the next round of layoffs. OTOH, if you have a good relationship with the organization, a statement like cacao's might allay that, but it's a big risk if you value the job.
posted by MoTLD at 2:33 PM on December 28, 2016


Do you have a union? If so, ask your union representative.
posted by heatherlogan at 2:54 PM on December 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would ask them (in a curious tone rather than a challenging one) why this is just being given to you now. Does the contract only apply if you decide to leave of your own accord, or does also apply if you are fired or laid off? Are they setting themselves up to get their investment back?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:53 PM on December 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


My read is that someone in your learning and development team saw that the forms weren't signed and emailed them out to you for signing just to make up for the fact that they'd cocked up.

If that's the case, emailing back and saying "sorry, I'm not happy to sign for something retrospective" would flush out whether or not they're going to press the issue, and they'd tell you if there's an officialreason they want you to do it. My gut feeling is that it hasn't got any official grounding behind it at all.
posted by ambrosen at 2:54 AM on December 29, 2016


In addition to the question of whether they can make you sign it, there's the question of whether signing it is any way meaningful. As a basic contractual principle, contracts require consideration -- each side of the agreement must get something.
In the United States, "sign this or we'll fire you" provides a valid contract. Your consideration is continued employment. Comes up in non-competes all the time.
posted by Lame_username at 4:23 AM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


In some but not all of the United States, "sign this or we'll fire you" provides a valid contract. Your consideration is continued employment. Comes up in non-competes all the time.
posted by PMdixon at 5:55 AM on December 29, 2016


None of the 3 jurisdictions of the UK are right to work states, so I'd be pretty happy that you're not going to get fired for pushing back. Unless it's a precarious job, I'd say that pushing back against this in a quiet & reasonable way shows that you can be trusted not to cover up other people's mistakes by taking on extra liabilities, which your manager would be pleased about.
posted by ambrosen at 6:33 AM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Most people are focusing on the legal aspects, but I think the people aspects are also important. Someone fucked up. They were supposed to get this paperwork signed before you took the course. It may currently be known to them that they fucked up, but, if you refuse to sign, other people (their bosses) will find out. You may have a legal right not to sign, but doing so will make at least one enemy. What was the cost of the training? What is the likelihood you will leave within the year? Does the possible loss equal the possible negative consequences of making an enemy at your current workplace?
posted by hworth at 12:01 PM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Where can I find info that will explain my rights in layman's terms? (I'm in the U.K.)

From ACAS.

They exist to help people like you with problems like these. There is an online help service and if that doesn't work, a (free) helpline to ring. Of course they are not going to advise you what to do, but they will be authoritative on your and your employers rights in these circumstances. Here is their summary page on circumstances in which wage deductions are lawful and unlawful as a starting point.
posted by genesta at 12:30 PM on December 29, 2016


Hworth has a point. Do you know where this got delayed? This could be down to delayed formal approvals by your boss/budget holder and not hr's fault.

Depending on how important these relationships are either start with an innocent ,confused as training was two months ago. Very happy to sign prospectively for any future training' in writing or by calling hr and asking.

If it is really important not to rock the boat also consider what you're asked to sign. Every time I was asked to sign one of these the repayment was decreasing proportional to how much of the year had passed. So I'd be surprised if you were on the hook for anything close to the total cost if you signed and left before the end of the 12 months. Unless you are actively looking to make a change in the next six months this may not be worth challenging.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:37 PM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have already sent the curious email asking about timing, happy to sign it, etc. Of course we are all on holiday at the moment, so I've had no answer yet. It is entirely possible that the paperwork was lost in the shuffle until now. Ordinarily I would assume that was the case, but the letter, which was posted in duplicate to my house, was dated the same day that discussions of my transfer to another office started to break down. I'm actually fighting to NOT quit my job. I'm not ruling out coincidence but it is very coincidental. The week before Christmas.

The ACAS website looks like it might be useful, especially as boats have been thoroughly rocked already.
posted by Eumachia L F at 9:36 PM on December 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Based on your follow-up: Are they asking you to repay if you leave, no matter what the conditions are, or only if you quit voluntarily? This is super sketchy. If you don't want to end up losing your job and footing their bill, lawyer up.
posted by cacao at 4:23 PM on January 2, 2017


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