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We Are All the Urban Outfitters Employees Who Were Asked to Work for Free

Last week, Gawker reported that URBN, the Philadelphia-based company that owns Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People, sent out a memo asking salaried workers to volunteer their weekend time, unpacking boxes during the October rush. But don't worry: the memo made it clear that this was a "team-building activity." Furthermore, lunch would be provided.

Last week, Gawker reported that URBN, the Philadelphia-based company that owns Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People, sent out a memo asking salaried workers to volunteer their weekend time, unpacking boxes during the October rush. But don’t worry: the memo made it clear that this was a “team-building activity.” Furthermore, lunch would be provided.

urban outfitters

(Photo Credit: Casey Hugelfink/Flickr)

From the memo, via Gawker:

Do You Know What You're Worth?

A Call for URBN Volunteers!

URBN is seeking weekend volunteers to help out at our fulfillment center in Gap, PA. October will be the busiest month yet for the center, and we need additional helping hands to ensure the timely shipment of orders. As a volunteer, you will work side by side with your GFC colleagues to help pick, pack and ship orders for our wholesale and direct customers.

In addition to servicing the needs of our customers, it’s a great way to experience our fulfillment operations first hand. Get your co-workers together for a team building activity!

URBN quickly responded to the leaked memo with a statement, saying that they had “received a tremendous response, including many of our senior management.” Hourly employees also volunteered, they said, “an offer which we appreciated, but declined in order to ensure full compliance with all applicable labor laws and regulations.”

What You Have in Common With URBN Employees

Maybe your boss hasn’t asked you to unpack boxes for free, but if you’re a salaried worker, chances are that you put in plenty of off-the-clock time, whether it’s answering emails late at night, or walking a microphone around during your company’s presentation at a trade show.

The question is: where do you draw the line? The job market has improved since the depths of the recession, but most of us probably don’t care to join the unemployment line, if we can help it. Sure, your boss can’t require you to volunteer your time, but he or she could make a mental note, and punish you for it later. Being a sneaky jerk isn’t illegal – at least, not on its own. And needless to say, if you think you’re genuinely being exploited, the first thing to do is to contact an attorney who specializes in employment law.

For those of you who are being “encouraged” to put in extra time, there are a few good questions to ask yourself:

1. Is this part of the corporate culture?

Not every expectation is written out in the employee handbook or in your job description. If you’re new on the job, see how your co-workers react to get a sense of whether this event or activity is an unspoken part of the culture at the company.

For example, many companies ask workers to volunteer, paying them their regular salary to take a day out and work for a good cause. (Note, however, that these causes are more along the lines of serving up breakfast at a soup kitchen than stocking the corporate warehouses. Also, it’s generally during normal working hours, which means employees get paid to do good.)

2. Do you demonstrate that you’re a team player in other ways?

Somewhere along the line, many companies turned into the corporate embodiment of that horrible manager from Office Space, harping on flair and intoning, “What do you think about of a person who does the bare minimum?”

It really should be enough to just do your job – you know, the one you get paid for – and go home, but it’s not. To buy yourself some good grace, you’ll probably have to put in a little extra now and then. But, that doesn’t mean that you have to volunteer every single time.

3. Are you doing a good job at your actual job, and can you prove it?

Most workers in the U.S. are at-will employees, which means that they can be fired for anything or nothing. This means that it’s especially important to get the boss on your side.

That said, one of the best ways to do that is to demonstrate your worth. Keep track of your accomplishments, and make sure to provide data showing how well you’ve achieved your goals. It’ll help you at review time, and make it easier to be choosy about when and where you put in extra effort.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever been asked to work for free? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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