The city of Franklin, NH is suing a former officer to recoup the cost of training him. Franklin required the officer to sign an agreement to repay the department for his training if he left the department within three years of the contract’s date.
For some officers, the lawsuit is not surprising. There are many departments that require an officer to enter into a contract promising to repay the agency for training as a condition of employment. Most of these contracts allow the officer to “work off” the repayment so that after two or three years the officer can leave the agency without owing the department any money.
In most cases, an applicant is well aware of the training requirement prior to being hired. This seems to be the most fair method, as it allows the applicant to make a reasoned decision about the contract, and to consult with an attorney prior to signing the contract.
In the Franklin case, though, it seems the contract was presented to the officer some six months after he was sworn in. According to reports, the contract was presented to the officer in the middle of the academy, when his options for reviewing and seeking counsel on the contract would have been at least restricted, if not prevented all together. No information was in the article regarding if the contract was discussed with the officer prior to hiring or prior to the academy attendance.
The city’s attorney made the following curious statement: “From his (the officer’s) point of view, it might be duress but I don’t think it reaches duress in the legal sense of the word.”
It might be duress? It certainly seems that the city may have ambushed the officer into signing the contract. It will be interesting to see how this will shake out in court.
If your department requires officers to enter into a contract to repay the costs of training, consider these points:
- Make sure the contract and expectations are discussed in detail prior to hiring an applicant.
- Provide a copy of the contract to a potential applicant, and allow him or her enough time to review the contract with his or her attorney if he or she desires to do so.
- If possible, have your department’s labor representative provide a letter for the applicant package explaining the union’s position on the contract.
The idea is to be as up front as possible about the contract and expectations. This can avoid any confusion and legal woes down the line.
One last thing to consider: why does your department feel such a contract is necessary? If your agency is a high-quality organization with excellent leadership, good training and a compensation package that is fair for your area you should not have turnover issues. If your agency has significant turnover problems that makes such an employment contract necessary, you may be better served by improving your department.
[Note: Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.]