Urban Outfitters tries to make 'working weekends for no pay' a hot fall trend

As Urban Outfitters whisks in new fall styles, its parent company is bringing in a new employment trend - asking staff to volunteer for unpaid work.

It's a "team building activity"

URBN employees have been asked to volunteer to work in the fulfilment warehouse, which the company pitched as an opportunity to "experience our fulfilment operations first hand." (iStock)

As Urban Outfitters whisks in new fall styles, its parent company is bringing in a new employment trend — asking staff to volunteer for unpaid work.

URBN, the owner of retail chains Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Free People, sent out an email Tuesday to salaried employees working at its home office in Philadelphia proposing the innovative strategy. 

As the email, obtained by Gawker, explained, "October will be the busiest month yet for the center, and we need additional helping hands to ensure the timely shipment of orders."

URBN pitched the idea, which would see staff members working side by side on weekends with people who are actually paid to be there, as an opportunity to "experience our fulfillment operations first hand" and "help pick, pack and ship orders." 

The message encouraged employees to "Get your co-workers together for a team building activity!"

Provided the employee agreed for a six-hour shift, they also offered lunch and transportation. 

CBC News reached out to URBN for comment, but did not receive an immediate response. The company did tell Gawker that employees appeared enthusiastic to work extra hours for no pay. 

"Unsurprisingly, we received a tremendous response, including many of our senior management," a representative wrote in a statement, adding that not everyone who applied was allowed to volunteer. 

"Many hourly employees also offered to pitch in — an offer which we appreciated, but declined in order to ensure full compliance with all applicable labor laws and regulations."

On Twitter, however, many doubted the stated enthusiasm of UO employees. Some also questioned the ethics of inviting employees to do extra work for free in the first place.

Still, there were those who argued that the request is unsurprising and a normal part of being a salaried retail employee.

"It's not uncommon in retail for salaried employees to be asked to do more, but most of the time it's, 'I need you in on Saturday because we have work to do. We need all hands on deck,'" Jonathan Segal, a partner at law firm Duane Morris, told Entrepreneur

This email marked the second time in the last week that URBN has had to respond to claims of dubious labour practices. 

Urban Outfitters announced it would cease "on-call" scheduling for store employees Wednesday, but only in New York, where the state`s Attorney General office sent out letters inquiring about the practice. 

On-call scheduling requires retail employees to be "on call" throughout the week, appearing on an employee's schedule alongside usual shifts. On call shifts, however, need to be validated by a phone call 2 hours prior to their start, otherwise it is unpaid. 

"Urban Outfitters has agreed to end on-call shifts for employees at all New York stores, with a phase-in process starting in November," said Eric Schneiderman, New York's attorney general, in a statement.

"Urban Outfitters has also agreed to provide employees with their schedules at least one week prior to the start of the workweek."

Gap, Abercrombie, and Victoria's Secret have stopped or are in the process of stopping the practice across the U.S., with Urban Outfitters being the only clothing retailer to end the practice solely in one state. 

As for those who have stopped the practice, employees already seem grateful, said Rachel Laforet, the director of the worker's advocacy group, Real Action Project.

"Our members who work for Victoria's Secret report they are able to feel human again, to some extent," Laforet told Buzzfeed


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