Practically any job you can think of requires training - workers need to be shown the tasks they're responsible for and how to do them. As a general rule, you have to be paid while you're in training. Also, employers usually have added costs connected to the training - paying the trainers, providing training materials and equipment, etc.
It can cost quite a bit, and some employers aren't willing to foot the entire bill.
Late in 2010, a federal court in California decided that employers could force workers to repay all or some of the wages they're paid during employer-required training, as well as any related training costs. The case involved a city police department's policy requiring police officers to repay training-related wages and costs if they don't work for the city for at least five years after completing training.
The repayment is prorated. If you voluntarily quit or resign within one year, you have to repay all training costs. The repayment amount drops a percentage for each year of work. After five years, officers don't have to repay anything.
One officer resigned two years after completing her training. In her final paycheck, the city took out a portion of what she owed in training costs (it took the money from her unused vacation time and other benefits). She was also given a written demand for payment of the balance.
Rather than pay, the former officer filed a lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act. It's the federal law that guarantees, for most workers, a set minimum wage and overtime pay. Under the FLSA, workers generally are required to get paid for and during employer-required training.
In her lawsuit, the officer claimed the city violated the FLSA because repayment of her training costs denied her the minimum wage she was entitled to under the FLSA. The courts disagreed. Not only could the city withhold money from her paycheck as partial repayment of the officer's training costs, it could demand payment of the balance at later date.
The repayment plan was not an illegal kickback - a requirement that an employee payback to the employer any portion of the wages he's legally entitled to.
What You Can Do
Before you to take that new job (or quit one you just started), make sure you know what your last paycheck might or might not include:
- Read over any documents you're given, especially anything you're asked to sign. In the California case, the officer signed an agreement to the city's training cost repayment policy. As a general rule, you have to agree, in writing, to any deductions your employer takes from your wages
- If you're uncertain, ask if the employer requires repayment of training costs and wages, and if so, under what circumstances. For example, do you have to repay if you're fired for disciplinary reasons or only if you voluntarily quit or resign? How long do you have stay before you don't have to repay?
- If the employer has a repayment policy, find out how much training costs are and consider saving some money from your paychecks to cover those costs if you later decide to leave
- Check your last paycheck carefully. Even though an employer may withhold training costs, your final paycheck (or any paycheck, for that matter), must include everything you're entitled to under the FLSA minimum wage requirements. You must be paid for all hours worked up to the time you leave. If not, the employer is probably violating the FLSA - and perhaps the minimum wage requirements under your state law, too
- If you think your rights under the FLSA or state minimum wage laws have been violated, contact the US Department of Labor, your state's labor department, or an attorney
Starting a new job is exciting, but it doesn't always pan out. Make sure you know what might happen to your paycheck if you change your mind about the job and look for something new.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Do I need to file a complaint with a federal or state agency before I file a lawsuit under the FLSA or state law?
- What kind of proof do I need to win my FLSA case?
- Can an employer refuse to hire me if I refuse to sign an agreement to repay my training costs?