Various questions and answers about the work (Part 2)

Can company require reimbursement for training if I quit?

I work for a company in Texas. Before they will agree to send me to a training seminar, they want me to sign an agreement that I will reimburse the company for the cost of the training should I leave the company. Is this legal?

Rita Risser’s response:

Generally it is legal for a company to require reimbursement for training, relocation expenses, or other extraordinary expenses if you leave the company shortly after those expenses are paid. Most companies require reimbursement if you leave within a year or two. If they are requiring you to reimburse them if you *ever* leave them, that sounds like indentured servitude!


Employee took keys and manual — what can company do?

I am an employer in California. An employee left. She still has not returned the correct office key, and copyrighted manual that is unique to our company and the service we provide. I wanted to withhold her last paycheck or expense check till we received these items. The manual could be used by her as she is becoming an independent provider and will compete against us and will work at some of our current customers.

Rita Risser’s response:

Under California law, you cannot withhold the final paycheck of an employee (in fact, it is due within 72 hours of the time they gave you notice of quitting, or on their last day of work if they give you more than 72 hours notice of quitting).

Your only recourse is to sue her in small claims for the key back (but if the key could be duplicated by a locksmith, I recommend you re-key the locks anyway). As for the manual, again you can sue in small claims but she could have the whole thing duplicated.

You do have the right to prevent her from using your copyrighted material. You also have the right to prevent her from using trade secret information about your customers. Best thing to do: ask your closest customers to let you know if they hear from her. You can sue in federal court for copyright protection, a restraining order, or other relief. It may be worthwhile to hire an attorney just to write her a letter explaining her legal responsibilities.

How do I get my final pay check?

I worked as a consultant for a computer company for five years and I got paid every two weeks. I decided to leave the company and gave the owner a month’s notice. I never got my last pay check. This is not the first case with this company, 3 programmers that used to work with this company never got their last pay checks either. The amount is around $4,000.

Rita Risser’s response:

As a consultant, your only remedy is to sue in court — either small claims (which typically has a limit of $750 to $2500) or in municipal court, which usually requires hiring an attorney. Assuming you are in a state with a $2500 limit on small claims, it definitely would be better to file in small claims and give up on the extra $1500, because an attorney will cost you much more than that. If you’re in a state with a $750 limit, perhaps it would be economical to hire an attorney. If you do, be sure to have the attorney give you a flat rate for the service. Do not go on an hourly “the meter is running” type arrangement or you could easily spend thousands. If you do hire an attorney, hopefully others who have left the company within the last two years and have not been paid will join you. That way the attorneys fees can be spread among more people. Also, you’re far more likely to win if there are a number of people who have been cheated.

However, before you do either of these things, it would be worthwhile for you to check if you really were a consultant, or whether in fact you were an employee. From what you say, working full-time at the same company for five years, you are not a consultant as defined by law. You may be able to file a claim for back wages with your state’s Labor Commission. Do not tell them you were an independent consultant. Just say you were an employee and let your former employer try to fight it. The advantage of going to the Labor Commission is that there is no limit on how much they can get for you, and their attorneys will represent you for free.



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