Get All Access for $5/mo

Why There's Nothing Outrageous About Urban Outfitters' Request for 'Free Work' The retailer sent an email asking employees to work on the weekend with no overtime. But before you jump to conclusions, read this.

By Carly Okyle

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Tupungato |

You may have seen a story making the rounds about how Urban Outfitters sent an email asking corporate employees to volunteer at the company's Pennsylvania fulfillment center for a weekend. While Gawker interpreted the communication as evidence of the chain's cruelty in expecting employees to work for free, the reality is far less exploitative.

There are a few key aspects to consider. First, the email asked for volunteers. Nobody was cornered, and nobody was coerced or otherwise forced to perform free labor. "Assuming the worst case scenario, the company was asking for a favor," says Heather Huhman, president of Come Recommended, a public relations firm that works with HR companies. "You don't always have to say yes to favors." Furthermore, since the email was sent to the company at large, it's unlikely that anyone felt that this was a demand disguised as a request.

It's also a completely legal request. While the idea of asking people in retail -- an industry known for low hourly wages -- to put in time sans compensation sounds off-putting and greedy, remember that the email was sent to salaried employees at the company's headquarters. According to Jonathan Segal, a partner in the employment group at the law firm Duane Morris, salaried employees who take home at least $455 each week and meet other qualifications are exempt from earning overtime wages. "It's part of the job," he says. "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.'"

Related: 3 Ways to Keep Company Morale Up During High Turnover

In this particular case, URBN, the parent company of Urban Outfitters, Free People and Anthropologie, was offering employees lunch and transportation -- and they were more than fair in doing so.

But the biggest miss of all is that there's a real team-building value in events like these. Granted, filling orders isn't as exciting as doing a Tough Mudder, but the truth is that any exercise that brings employees together -- particularly employees who don't often meet face-to-face -- is an opportunity to build camaraderie. "It did sound like it was a bit of a spin on something that could maybe be boring, but any opportunity to get to know your co-workers, I think that's a great thing," says Huhman.

Huhman also points out that some companies offer people the opportunity to switch jobs with a colleague for a day, called role reversals. "It gives you a mutual understanding of what the other person does," she explains.

Related: How You Know You've Created the Company of Your Dreams

Indeed, URBN told Gawker that the request for volunteers was well-received by employees. "Unsurprisingly, we received a tremendous response, including many of our senior management. 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."

Corporations can certainly partake in some shady practices (Foxconn, anyone?) but this story is far less scandalous than Gawker's headline would suggest. As for the outrage of the masses after reading the story, Segal offers a simple explanation: "People rushed to judgment."

Related: This Launchpad For Outdoor Activewear Practices What It Preaches

Carly Okyle

Editorial Assistant

Carly Okyle is an editorial assistant at

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Growing a Business

You'll Never Satisfy Your Customers — or Grow Your Business — Without Doing These 3 Things

Customer feedback can be used to drive sustainable growth. Here are three approaches to how you can move past measurement to drive improvement and ultimately grow your business.

Business News

Southwest Airlines Is Switching Up Its Boarding Policy and Assigning Seats for the First Time Ever

The airline, known for its unique open seating model, will assign seats for the first time in company history.


From Crisis to Control — How to Lead Effectively in High-Stress Scenarios

From the eye of the storm to the heart of leadership: How BELFOR's Sheldon Yellen's approach to the disaster recovery industry is revolutionizing resilience in business.

Growing a Business

5 Lessons Nonprofit Leaders Can Learn from Big Tech

Nonprofits can do more good by adopting a few key lessons from tech companies — like focusing on efficiency and using data for strategic decision-making.

Starting a Business

How to Find the Right Programmers: A Brief Guideline for Startup Founders

For startup founders under a plethora of challenges like timing, investors and changing market demand, it is extremely hard to hire programmers who can deliver.


Working Remote? These Are the Biggest Dos and Don'ts of Video Conferencing

As more and more businesses go remote, these are ways to be more effective and efficient on conference calls.