do you have to share reward money with your employer?

A reader writes:

A friend of mine has been taking certification courses for the last number of months. He just found out he won $1000 for having the highest marks in his class. His employer (a small, 10-person company) has been paying for the courses, but my friend attends the classes and studies on his own time (evenings and weekends).

His question is: who gets the money? Is it his, since it’s his own time and diligence in getting such a high mark, or should he give some (or all) of it to his employer?

I think it’s a pretty big achievement even without the monetary reward, but of course it would be nice to have the money!

He should keep it — he earned it.

I’m not going to promise you that there’s not some crazy employer out there who would demand to have the money handed over to them, in whole or in part, because I’m sure there is. But if we’re talking about how this should work, and how it would work with reasonable employers, your friend should keep the money and have no qualms about it.

His employer is paying for him to attend the courses because it benefits them in some way — it’s a retention strategy and/or they think he’ll gain skills that will benefit them. What he owes to them is to take the courses seriously, attend class, study (which it sounds like he’s clearly done), and abide by the terms of any agreement he has with them about how long he’ll stay at the company once the program is over. But he doesn’t owe them a reward that was given to him specifically for the work that he did in the course. That should be all his.

An employer who would ask for a reward like this to be handed over to them would be one petty employer.

Anyone want to disagree?

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