Can employers who require employees to undergo training to
upgrade their skills as part of their employment then seek
reimbursement from the employee if the employee subsequently
resigns? As seen in the Alberta Arbitration
First Truck Centre Edmonton Inc. v. Christian Labour Association of
Canada, Local 56 (PDF), the answer to this issue will
depend on whether the employer clearly communicated to the employee
that he or she would have to repay the employer if he or she
Background to the Dispute
The dispute involved First Truck Centre Edmonton Inc. and
Christian Labour Association of Canada, Local 56 (the
"Union") on behalf of Union members Bill Thomson and
Marco Roy (the "Employees"). The dispute was over
deductions First Truck made to the Employees' final pay cheques
to reimburse itself for costs it had expended to upgrade the
Employees' training. The Arbitrator was asked to determine
whether First Truck was (1) permitted to make those deductions from
the final pay cheques and (2) whether the training costs it was
claiming for reimbursement were owed by the Employees. The
Arbitrator quickly disposed of the first issue as it determined
that First Truck was not permitted under the Employment
Standards Code to make such deductions. The second issue
was dealt with more thoroughly, as follows.
The Evidence Regarding the Training Program
In order for First Truck to maintain its status as a dealer and
distributor of freightliner warranty work, it was required to
employ certified technicians who had a basic heavy equipment
technician journeyman certificate. In addition, its
technicians were required to maintain current and topical training
in the service and repair of these vehicles. To meet this
requirement, training was made available to employees as new
equipment and techniques emerged, often in-house. The
Employees both participated in these training programs.
The Employees knew they might be asked to reimburse First Truck
if they left the organization within one year of training. But
they both thought that this only applied to external training
programs. For external training, First Truck required that its
employees pay for the cost of the course and would then reimburse
them based on their grades. Both Employees believed that this
policy did not apply to the in-house training
The Arbitrator determined in these circumstances that the
training costs were not recoverable by First Truck because it could
not demonstrate that it had communicated that the in-house training
costs would need to be repaid if the Employees resigned within a
certain period of time. First Truck was able to point to
express language in respect of training costs for its external
training programs; however, the Arbitrator decided that this did
not transfer to all training programs. In addition,
while First Truck's employee handbook also contained some
language relating to training costs, there was no evidence that the
Employees had read or agreed to its terms.
Take Away for Employers
This case reminds employers of the importance of using express
language in its policies where it relates to training and
education. This express language should set out the specific
training employees are to receive, the approximate costs of the
course, and the terms of repayment if employees leave within the
specified time period. Further, it is equally important that
employers review those policies and forms with employees,
particularly in circumstances where the employer wishes to be
reimbursed for training costs if the employee leaves within a
certain period of time. Better yet, obtain employees'
express agreement to the repayment terms.
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