Company policies can take a toll even as you quit a job.

QMy company's employee handbook says that an employee who leaves within 12 months of a company-paid training event must reimburse the firm for full tuition. A co-worker of mine was affected by this rule, even though her supervisor dictated that she attend the training event. When she gave her two weeks' notice, she was summarily dismissed and was told she is now responsible for the $6,000 worth of training taken during the past year. Is this legal?

ABill Bethune, a Washington attorney who usually represents corporations in employment cases, said an employer not only can require mandatory attendance at company-sponsored training sessions, but also can set rules for workers on paying the costs if they leave relatively soon thereafter.

In this case, he said, "On the face of it, the policy certainly was reasonable. It protects the employer's investment. It appears the employee triggered the stay-or-pay clause by tendering her resignation.

"I would say it is enforceable assuming it has been uniformly applied in all similar circumstances without any discriminatory practices," Bethune said.

"If the employee was aware of the policy," he said, "it would seem to be a self-inflicted injury" to now be required to pay the training costs.

Even so, Bethune said that under some circumstances the worker might not have to pay the training costs. If she felt compelled to quit because she was "asked to do something unreasonable and intolerable, so beyond the role of normal workplace activities," then she might be able to make a successful stand against paying the training costs.

Similarly, Bethune said that if the company did not give a copy of the employee handbook to the worker, "it would be difficult to enforce the agreement."

Bethune said workers who want to leave for new jobs and are faced with training cost payback charges can inform would-be employers of the situation and tell them, " 'If you want me, I want you to make me whole.' You could protect yourself in that way."

-- Kenneth Bredemeier

E-mail your workplace questions to Kenneth Bredemeier at Discuss workplace issues with him at 11 a.m. Wednesday at