Can my employer sue me for tuition reimbursement if I was fired?

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Can my employer sue me for tuition reimbursement if I was fired?

The small print says word for word, “If your employment terminates before you fulfill the one year, you will have to pay back… [the money].” I spoke with HR and the rep even said I’d have to pay back whether I quit or was terminated, doesn’t matter. I was terminated and honestly feel like it was unfair because I got in trouble for other people’s actions (I’m a supervisor). It was compliance stuff and I tried my very hardest to improve; I showed progress. Now I have a letter saying I have to pay everything back or I can never be rehired and may be turned over to collections; $1400 due in 1.5 months

Asked on July 18, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Minnesota

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

An agreement to pay back tuition is enforceable. While most of those agreements only require it in the event of the employee leaves, it would be legal to require repayment in the event of either termination for cause or, indeed, any termination--whatever is what  you agreed to would be enforceable. If there is a dispute between you and the company over what the language in the agreement means--for example, it's ambiguous and not entirely clear what situations are covered--you may have grounds to fight the attempt to seek recovery, especially if you neither quit nor were fired for cause. (Recovering tuition in the event of a non-cause firing is not the norm; it's legal, but not common.) However, you have to balance the cost of fighting the recovery--e.g. legal and court costs--vs. what you hope to save in order to decide whether to dispute it or not.


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