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Can an Employer deduct professional fees paid on behalf of an employee?

In this month’s decisions from the Workplace Relations Commission, a trainee accountant alleged that her employer had made an unlawful deduction from her salary in respect of examination fees when she resigned from her job.

The employer in this case stated that the claimant’s resignation was in breach of her training contract which applied across the board and that they were entitled to recover the fees paid. The contract states “If a student wishes to terminate or transfer a training contract before its expiry day then all the education costs incurred up to the date of termination or transfer are repayable to the firm”.

The employer also argued that it was entitled to deduct time off in lieu and annual leave entitlements to cover the amounts due.

The Workplace Relations Commission found that while a provision in an employee’s contract can allow an employer to deduct monies from a departing employee (if due), there was no justification for witholding monies the employee was actually legally entitled to such as any outstanding holiday entitlements. It held

“For the reasons set out, I find that the complaint is well founded, and the deduction was not fair and reasonable. It was not fair and reasonable to deduct the complainant’s entire last salary, including her annual leave entitlement, in circumstances where the respondent had already accrued substantial benefit from the complainant’s successful professional development over three years”.

The employee was awarded 3,600 which included the sum illegally deducted as well as compensation for the breach.

A copy of the decision can be found here.

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