I recently switched jobs and my previous employer is saying I owe them $3K to reimburse them for a study software they purchased for me before I started working. The internal policy (which I was unaware of when the materials were purchased) says the employee is responsible for reimbursement if they leave the firm within two years of the order date. I ordered the software in November 2011, began employment in January 2013, and quit November 2014. The offer letter I received from the company in November 2011 says "This letter constitutes the full commitments that have been extended to you." I do not feel as if I owe the money because I quit almost three years after the "order date."
If you had not become employed by the company, you would not have received the reimbursement. You started work for the company 2 years after you bought the study software. You then were hired by the company. You were then told you could submitted the cost of the study software for reimbursement by the company. I would think at this point, the company also gave you information about the obligations you would have if you submitted the cost of the study software for reimbursement because you would have access to the company's internal policies. You may also want to double check any form you had to sign when submitting the reimbursement cost.
I do not know how MD handles this issue as a state, since I practice in Florida. But, the type of agreement you are discussing is what is commonly called a restrictive covenant. More and more these agreements are used to recoup the cost of training employees. There have been several law review articles and cases that address this question.
In Florida the law allows for restrictive covenants that allow employers to recoup the cost of "extraordinary or specialized training" if it is a "legitimate business interest." "Extraordinary" must go beyond what is regular, common, or customary in the industry, in which the employee is employed. For the employer to prevail, the employer would need to show that the repayment agreement was "reasonably necessary" to protect its interest. These are all terms from Florida law.
Most of the time non-compete agreements and training repayment agreements are signed at the beginning of employment or during employment. An example, might be an employee who receives tuition reimbursement from the employer for educational costs. Usually, the employee must stay employed for a specific time frame.
Sometimes, employees are asked to sign the agreement if you are already employed with the company. The consideration for signing the agreement could be construed to include your continued employment with the company. You probably agreed to the term when you accepted the payment or submitted the reimbursement. Although, in your state this may be different.
It is likely that if you sign the agreement and leave before the period of time in the agreement, the company might win if the issue is litigated. It would of course depend upon the circumstances surrounding your agreement.
As always, any legal question or issue may turn on a single event that occurs. You should contact an attorney in Maryland to discuss the conditions surrounding your submission of the reimbursement, the receipt of or access to the policy, etc. as well as the law that specifically guides the issue in your state.
This message should not be construed to be legal advise. The purpose of the message is informational only. Please note: this response does not create an attorney-client relationship. Hiring an attorney is an important undertaking. An individual seeking legal advice should ensure that the attorney is licensed to practice law in the state in which the individual needs representation. A review of the State Bar's website is a good start in educating yourself about an attorney. Ms. Lyne is a Florida Bar licensed attorney and practices law in Florida only.
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