Pet Smart and a trap


After last week’s stunning jobs report which seems to have confounded the experts you’d think things would be all rosy on the employment front.

Ah but you would be overlooking a lawsuit that was filed just a few days before the report, one that might more accurately reflect employment in the United States at the moment.

The lawsuit was filed as a class action against Pet Smart, you know that mega store that drove your local pet shop out of business. It seems that when you hire on as a groomer at Pet Smart you must sign a contract that says, after all the legal language and small print is translated, if you quit or are fired within the first two years of employment you are required to repay Pet Smart the cost of your training. Even if you are laid off because of a lack of customers you still owe the money.

It’s called Training Repayment Agreement Provisions or (and I’m not making this up) TRAP. That’s the name the LAWYERS came up with.

And who says attorney’s have no sense of humor?

Pet Smart values that training at $5000. Why that amount? Good question, it seems to be a number pulled straight out of their ass. I mean the donkey in the back, not their posterior. I’m trying to keep this family friendly.

In other words, find another job in those first two years and you’re on the line for five large even if the new job you’re going to has nothing to do with pet grooming. Get terminated, for whatever reason, and you owe the five Clevelands. Get fired because you complained of bad or unsafe working conditions and it’s a dead solid lock they will come after you for the money. In other words

OK I lied about keeping it family friendly.

If an employee thinks it’s unfair he or she is being made to pay money to leave their job they can’t even go to court over it. Yeah, there’s a clause in the TRAP that says any dispute has to go before binding arbitration. Guess who gets to pick the arbitrator? If you think it’s the employee please tell me this, what’s the color of the sky in your world?

If you’re thinking “well they did get training” keep in mind that many of those who have joined the class action claim that they were in fact never trained in pet grooming and instead spent most of their time sweeping, restocking shelves, and getting to muck out the hamster cages.

Wow, I get to do all that AND I owe them for the privilege, where do I sign up?

Speaking of signing up, one of the many documents new employees have to sign is a promissory note for the $5000. And it is alleged that Pet Smart tells their store managers to dismiss the promissory note to anyone who asks about it as “simply a formality to protect the company and you” should something go wrong. Click here if you’d like to see some of the actual documents put into evidence.

It’s bad enough that a corporate retailer is doing this to less educated, less savvy, less English as a first language folks, but other sorts of companies are doing it as well. While you might not care that your dog groomer is being shafted this way, would it bother you a bit more to know that the same thing is done to the registered nurses who take care of you in a hospital?

Oh yes, some health care corporations pull the same garbage with nurses, only instead of $5000 they peg their “training” at being worth $10,000. If you are thinking “don’t nurses get trained at school?” the answer would be yes. The training these health care corporations refer to is basically where the nurses’ station is, how to fill out your time card, how to apply for vacation time, etc., what most any other company would call “orientation” and then pay you for your time to do it.

Back in the day, say 1630 or so, this was called indentured servitude. Not quite a slave, but not quite a freeman either. Many of the first Europeans who came to the New World were there via indentured servitude. While the practice slowly eroded over the years, it wasn’t fully banned until the 13th amendment was added to the Constitution. That’s the one that also outlawed slavery.

But here in the 21st Century, the corporate world wants to bring it back. It’s bad enough that Americans feel shackled to their jobs because of student loans, health insurance, and non-compete clauses, now the Brahmins of Business want to add in a penalty for having the temerity to want to leave a dead end, no promotion job. Technically it’s legal for a business to do this because it’s not quite indentured servitude. The employee gets a salary, maybe benefits, and can always leave as long as they pay back the “training fees”.

Well it’s legal in a lot of states. Here in California it’s illegal and has been since…hold on let me find it…ohhhh.  Yeah, even here in the liberal blue Golden State we only outlawed the practice not quite two years ago. We also outlawed the practice of companies agreeing not to poach each other’s employees. That was only about ten years ago. At least our outlawing of non compete clauses is a little older. That goes back to the Gold Rush. Last year Biden signed an executive order asking the Federal Trade Commission to look into banning or at least limiting the practice nation wide. Study it, not actually ban it.

Meanwhile TRAPs are showing up in more and more places. From roofing sales people to the financial services sector they are popping up as fast as companies can get their lawyers to write them up. It is suspected that this is in response to “the Great Resignation”, but these clauses have existed long before folks used the pandemic to rethink their life goals.

I think it’s really just an excuse for companies to bury employees under sixteen tons of crap and have everyone owe their soul to the company store.

I would use the Tennessee Ernie Ford version, but I couldn’t resist Jeff Beck and ZZ Top.

Shapiro Out

3 thoughts on “TRAP-ed

  1. I know people who’ve done the company-hosted, sponsored, whatever training, and the wash out rate is huge before and after they find out they’re just telemarketers for the people higher up the pyramid screen. Will they hold those people to it as well?

    1. It depends on the situation. Most of those situations, where there is a known wash out rate, the people are only temps until they finish the training so not likely to have a TRAP clause. If it’s training after they are officially hired it’s entirely possible the clause is in there. TRAPs are there to keep workers in place and afraid to move on.

  2. I’ve had signing bonuses where I have to pay back the money if I leave before a particular unit of time (usually a year), but pay us back for the “training” is horseshit.

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