On August 12, 2015, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth District held that police officers’ agreement to reimburse a city for training costs if they quit within five years was valid only to the extent the training related to Peace Officer Standards and Training (“POST”) certification mandated by law. The Court held that employer-mandated training or agency-specific training, on the other hand, is not reimbursable to the city because this training is completed for the benefit of the city, and seeking reimbursement for it would be a violation of Labor Code section 2802. The case, In Re Acknowledgment Cases, is a significant one for agencies that have, or are considering implementing, similar agreements whereby they require peace officers to reimburse the agency for the cost invested in officers’ POST certification and training in the police academy.
The City of Los Angeles required that all newly hired police officers attend and graduate from the Los Angeles Police Academy. In the early 1990’s, the city realized that many officers who graduated from the academy were leaving within a few years to join other law enforcement agencies. The city sought to find a way to cut back on this attrition. To do so, the city enacted Los Angeles Administrative Code section 4.1700 (“LAAC section 4.1700”). That section provided that any police officer hired by the Los Angeles Police Department was required to reimburse the city a prorated portion of the cost of training at the academy if he or she voluntarily left the LAPD after serving less than 60 months following graduation from the academy and went to work for another law enforcement agency within one year after terminating employment with the LAPD. LAAC section 4.1700 further provided that upon application for a job as a police officer, the applicant shall sign an agreement stating that he or she agrees to comply with the terms of LAAC section 4.1700. The agreement was called “the acknowledgement,” hence the title of this case.
Back in August 2001, the city sued former LAPD officer Anthony Alvo alleging that Alvo was required by the terms of the acknowledgement to reimburse the city $34,000 for training costs incurred by the city. Alvo had left the city’s employment within 60 months of graduating from the LAPD academy to work for another agency. Alvo and another former LAPD officer (who had also signed the acknowledgement, and whom the city had threatened with legal action) denied the allegations and filed a cross-complaint against the city on behalf of themselves and other former officers who had been sued by the city. Judgment was entered against the former officers on the cross-complaint, and they (“Appellants”) appealed contending that LAAC section 4.1700 and the acknowledgement violated Labor Code section 2802.
Labor Code section 2802, subdivision (a), provides that, “An employer shall indemnify his or her employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties….” Appellants asserted that because the LAPD required all newly hired officers to attend its academy, the cost of the academy was a necessary expenditure incurred as a direct consequence of the discharge of the officer’s duties, and that LAAC section 4.1700 and the acknowledgment were therefore void. Labor Code section 2802 gives no direction as to whether costs of employee training are to be borne by the employer or employee, and the Court found no cases addressing training as a cost covered by section 2802. In interpreting statutes, however, California Courts give “great weight” to how administrative agencies with expertise in the area interpret them, and therefore the Court turned to an administrative agency’s opinion on liability for training costs under Labor Code section 2802.
In 1994, the Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”), issued an opinion letter which stated that where an individual must, as a matter of law, have a license to carry out the duties of his or her employment, the employee can be required to bear the cost of obtaining the license. The DLSE further opined that an employer must, however, bear the cost of training which is not required to obtain the license but is intended solely to enable the employee to discharge his or her duties for the benefit of the employer.
The Court in In Re Acknowledgement Cases, observed that to operate as a police officer in the State of California, a POST certificate is required. Under Penal Code sections 832 and 13510.1, a POST certification is deemed by the legislature to be a “professional certificate” and is in effect a licensure to act as a peace officer. Since police officers are required by statute to be licensed or certified to perform the duties of a police officer in the state, under the reasoning of the DLSE’s 1994 opinion letter, the city can require the employee peace officer to bear the cost of this licensure.
The Court observed that in the case before it, the LAPD’s academy training consisted of 644 hours of POST training and 420 hours of “department required” training. The 420 hours of department-required training addressed issues that were specific to the city, such as crime patterns and trends and specific department policies. The Court held that such training, which was not required by statute or public policy but was rather instituted purely to satisfy the needs of the city, was employer-mandated training and therefore an expense which the city must bear. As such, LAAC section 4.1700 and the acknowledgement were deemed void in their entirety as they required reimbursement to the city for both POST training and department required training costs.
While LAPD’s Administrative Code section and acknowledgement were found to be void, the Court made clear that a city can seek reimbursement for training costs incurred purely for POST certification. The takeaway from the In Re Acknowledgement Cases is that a police department may implement and enforce a policy whereby police officers agree to reimburse the city for specific POST training costs incurred by the city in putting officers through a police academy, if that officer violates the policy within a fixed period of time after graduating from the academy. In other words, POST training costs must be borne by the employee, while employer-mandated training costs must be borne by the employer.