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I have been working for an IT company for close to three years. Their headquarters is in Virginia but I work in West Virginia. When I accepted the position, three years ago, there were no certifications required for this position.

A year and a half into my position, the company began requiring a new certification and did not grandfather prior hires into not needing it. To make matters worse, the certification is only very loosely tied to the work I do, whereas the two certifications I already had for 8570 are both directly related to my position.

The company will pay for the now mandatory certification ($1,150), but I must fill out an education reimbursement request for it, and agree to pay the money back if I leave within a year.

As this is being mandated by the company, I don't think that is right. I have found California case law saying companies cannot do that unless the training is voluntary, but no case law for West Virginia.

WV is also an at-will-employment state, so I'm wondering if the company can just say, "Sign the paper or you're fired". Does anyone know if there are any federal or WV state laws against this type of behavior? Forcing someone to pay for a mandatory certification, after being hired, and then making you pay for it out of your pocket if you leave seems at the very least unethical to me, if not illegal.

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WV is also an at-will-employment state, so I'm wondering if the company can just say, "Sign the paper or you're fired".

They can. And, every U.S. state except Montana is an "at will" employment state.

I don't think that is right.

"At will" cuts both ways. If you don't like the terms of your employment, you can leave and work elsewhere. The terms your employer is offering you sound less favorable than the prevailing terms in the IT industry.

Also, many employees fail to recognize that employment contract terms are frequently negotiable even though the employer will never say so outright. If you advise an employer that you will quit if they don't change one fairly minor and offensive contract terms, often they will blink and change the terms of the contract. While you have made an investment in your current location and this job, they have also made an investment in familiarizing you with the company and its personnel and customers that they would lose if you left. They are particularly likely to concede if you can demonstrate to them that there are other firms out there and hiring with more favorable contract terms than they are making available.

Does anyone know if there are any federal or WV state laws against this type of behavior?

There is no such federal law (unless the reimbursement requirement brought your total pay below minimum wage which is unlikely in this kind of position for these kinds of dollar amounts).

It is highly unlikely that there is a West Virginia state law that prohibits this (West Virginia's laws are not generally at all employee friendly and very few U.S. states prohibit this kind of requirement), although I am not a West Virginia lawyer and don't have intimate knowledge of obscure limitations that aren't easily found in a statute book.

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  • Wouldn't the reimbursement requirement have a potential to bring their compensation to less than $0 (if they were to quit immediately after the training completed)? It would probably help to understand if such an eventuality would have to occur for the minimum wage law to be violated or if the mere possibility would be enough to make this illegal.
    – grovkin
    Jan 5 at 0:12
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    Thanks for the response. I thoroughly searched the state code and couldn't find anything relevant to my situation. I also contacted the WV Division of Labor, who would only give me the phone number for a group that provides free legal advice to low income individuals, who doesn't do anything with labor law. I have tried pushing back with my boss, but not to the point of quitting. That did work with a similar situation, with a different employer. They paid for the required cert with no expectation of me paying it back. I contacted HR to to validate that this is definitely their policy.
    – Guest
    Jan 5 at 13:23

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