If my wife sought out tuition reimbursement from her employer and was initially approved so she enrolled, can they now stop paying?

She was initially approved reimbursement through her employer and subsequently enrolled. Her company reimbursed a portion of her tuition after she submitted her first set of grades. While still attending her class, she took maternity leave was informed by her employer that they would not reimburse her tuition until after she returned back to work. After finishing her leave yesterday, she was informed today by HR that they had made a mistake initially and shouldn’t have approved her for reimbursement in the first place and that they would no longer pay for the remainder of the tuition. Are they legally obligated to pay for the remainder of the tuition?

Asked on July 14, 2015 under Employment Labor Law, Pennsylvania


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

If your wife is doing something in exchange for the tuition reimbursement above and beyond her normal job--e.g. taking on extra responsibilities, working longer hours, transferred to a different location, etc.--then the fact that she is providing "consideration" ("something of value" to the company) may mean that there is an enforceable contract to provide her with reimbursement. In that case, they may have to continue reimbursing her, though if she thinks this is the case, she should consult with an employment attorney who can evaluate the facts and situation in detail and explain her options about enforcing the agreement.

If she is not doing something above-and-beyond in exchange for the reimbursement, then there is no contract, just a "gratuitious promise,"  the same as if some aunt or uncle, say, promised without prompting to provide tuition money. Just like the aunt or uncle could, in that case, voluntarily stop paying the amounts they had voluntarily chosen to pay, the company can stop paying the reimbursement; the law does not enforce gratuitious promises. You can argue that morally they *should* pay, but whether they should or shouldn't, the law doesn't force them to.

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