Protecting your investment in employee study

Dec 28, 2015 | Good Management

Although many small business owners have little in terms of funds available for training, and are keen to seek ideas for developing staff on a very low budget, some do have a bit more to invest and like to consider sponsoring employees through higher/further education, professional qualifications or similar. But understandably, many are wary of doing so without wanting to protect their investment. Here are some things to think about if you’re considering supporting an employee in this way:

Wanting to protect your investment is perfectly normal

The vast majority of employers only invest in this type of development where it will benefit them as well as the employee, and no employer, large or small, wants to spend potentially thousands of pounds on training or education for staff only for them to leave shortly after completion and for the employer not to see the benefit. Most organisations look to put in place some mechanism for them to recoup at least some of their investment in the event of the employee leaving, and this is perfectly normal and acceptable.

Clarity is key

If you want to have a repayment clause enabling you to recoup funds if someone leaves, the single most important thing to do is to make sure that the terms of your investment are made 100% clear to staff hoping for funding beforehand.

Sounds obvious, but don’t rely on clauses in a contract or policies in a handbook. Make sure terms are set out in a personal letter or agreement with the member of staff, and that they sign to confirm they understand what they are signing up to at the time the investment is agreed.

Think about scales of repayment

Some employers have a simple cut-off – if the employee leaves before, say, two years, they have to repay in full, if they stay even one day beyond, there is no repayment required. Although this might be slightly easier administratively, scaling repayment slightly is probably fairer if you can. Consider stepping down the percentage of fees repayable over a period of time instead. After all you have got some benefit from the training if the employee stays for, say, a year or 18 months.

Consider circumstances for repayment

Yes the normal circumstances under which an employer might look for repayment of fees after sponsoring an employee would be if that employee leaves during or soon after their course finishes. But think carefully about how you word this requirement and under exactly which circumstances you’d want to recover monies. It might be reasonable, for example, to not try to to recoup your investment if the employee leaves through compulsory redundancy.

On the other hand, even if the employee doesn’t leave, you might want to be able to recover costs if they don’t complete the course, don’t attend sessions regularly or fail all or part of it.

No repayment for compulsory training

It’s not really on to want repaying for training you are enforcing the employee’s attendance at, even if it is expensive. There are some exceptions but generally, if you decide you want the employee to go on a training course, you should swallow the cost if this is going to be compulsory.

It’s not just about fees

There are other ways you can support an employee through training/education other than paying fees, if that level of investment isn’t something you feel you can make.

You could pay a proportion of fees, or alternatively you can support employees with paid time off, either regularly or periodically for exams or similar. You could fund resources they need for their training or offer them help with study through mentoring or on-the-job training in support of their formal study.

Consistency and transparency

It’s fine to want to only make this kind of investment occasionally, and many smaller organisations just wouldn’t have the funding available for doing it often, but in the interests of fairness and to avoid mutterings, setting out some kind of decision-making criteria for financial support through training is sensible if you can.

You can of course still retain discretion, but if it’s clear to all that (for example) qualifications must be directly related to the role the person is in, that financial investment will be limited to x amount, or x percentage, and that the same repayment schedule will apply to all, this will reduce the likelihood of resentment and also of applications for funding that you would not be able to agree to.

If you want some guidance on repayment clauses or sponsoring employees through professional qualifications do get in touch.