Column: This job requires you to pay $1,800 for your own training
We keep hearing about employers having a difficult time filling positions as the economy gradually reopens.
So I’ll admit I was surprised to hear about a Southern California business that’s charging job applicants $1,800 for their own training.
Is that fair? It hardly seems so.
Is it legal? Keep reading.
Tatiana Sarasty attended classes several years ago at the Brentwood branch of Pure Barre, a nationwide chain of boutique fitness centers that mix ballet moves with more traditional workouts.
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The Brentwood resident enjoyed the sessions so much, she said, she subsequently received training as a barre instructor, although not with Pure Barre.
So Sarasty was intrigued when she received an email the other day from Pure Barre saying the Brentwood facility was looking for instructors.
“Now that things are opening up, I thought that Pure Barre looks like a great opportunity,” she told me. “I wanted to work there.”
She said as much in her reply to the company. This prompted a response from Kayla Allen, franchise owner of the Brentwood and Santa Monica Pure Barre locations.
The Santa Monica branch reopened in April. The Brentwood studio reopened this month.
In her email, Allen revealed that, to be hired as a teacher, applicants must undergo at least four days of training. That training costs the applicant $1,800, of which $550 will be refunded after “an active year of teaching.”
Moreover, the email makes clear that new hires are expected to practice Pure Barre’s fitness techniques for “about five hours a day for a month.” That practice will be done “on your own time.”
Situations like this have come up before. Pizza chain Papa John’s agreed last year to pay $3.4 million to settle allegations that it failed to compensate California workers for mandatory training.
But Pure Barre charging job applicants a hefty training fee seems particularly brazen.
Granted, if your business offers a specialized service — whether a fitness routine, hot yoga or whatever — you want service providers to be well versed in all aspects of the discipline.
But either an employer wants you or they don’t. Getting a job shouldn’t be a shake-down racket.
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I reached out to Allen, owner of the Brentwood and Santa Monica franchises. She didn’t respond.
I also reached out to Pure Barre’s Irvine head office. The company says it has more than 500 franchised studios in the United States and Canada, with nearly 600,000 clients.
A spokesperson for Pure Barre, who wouldn’t let me use her name because the response was “from the brand,” said the training fee was part of a company “certification program,” which is not the same as official certification.
“Pure Barre offers its own certification program given our method and instruction are so unique,” the spokesperson said.
“Those wanting to teach at Pure Barre are required to complete our program to ensure we continue to deliver the safest and most effective technique for our members.”
The company’s good intentions notwithstanding, I’ll reiterate: An in-house “certification program” is just a fancy way of saying “training.” It’s not like meeting requirements for state certification or licensing.
Also, every employment attorney I spoke with said California was clear on this issue: You can’t charge employees or job applicants for their own training.
“If it’s mandatory training, not only can you not charge them, you have to pay them,” said Nasir Pasha, an employment lawyer who practices in California, Illinois, New York and Texas.
What Pure Barre is doing “doesn’t seem legal under California law,” he told me.
I heard the same sentiment again and again. “That does not sound legal,” said Leonard Sansanowicz, a Los Angeles employment lawyer.
“I’ve heard of some outrageous violations in my time,” said Carey James, an Oakland employment lawyer, “but this takes the cake.”
Each lawyer pointed me toward Section 450 of the California Labor Code.
It states, unambiguously, that “no employer, or agent or officer thereof, or other person, may compel or coerce any employee, or applicant for employment, to patronize his or her employer, or any other person, in the purchase of any thing of value.”
It also makes clear that “to compel or coerce the purchase of any thing of value includes, but is not limited to, instances where an employer requires the payment of a fee or consideration of any type from an applicant for employment … for an employer to provide, accept or process an application for employment.”
In plain English: You can’t charge employees or job applicants for their own training.
It’s a question I get asked frequently, most recently by a colleague who was shocked to find that his new pair of prescription eyeglasses cost about $800.
I asked the California Department of Industrial Relations for its opinion.
Paola Laverde, a spokeswoman for the state labor agency, quoted a department “subject matter expert” as saying that “an employer which charges applicants for training violates Section 450.”
That’s a misdemeanor under California law.
I can’t say if every Pure Barre franchise charges a training fee. But I spoke with a woman who worked as a Pure Barre instructor in Potomac Falls, Va.
She said she encountered a $1,600 training fee when she applied for the gig in 2019, although in her case the studio waived half the charge.
“It was a bit of sticker shock,” admitted Andrea Greb, 34, who now works as an aerospace engineer in Colorado. At Pure Barre, she said, she was paid $25 per class.
If nothing else, the takeaway here is for all California residents to remember they have rights under the law. And one of those rights is that you can’t be charged for your own training. Period.
Pure Barre may think it can levy its training fee as a company “certification” charge. But none of the lawyers I spoke with found that convincing.
“This is the precise behavior that Section 450 is intended to prevent,” Pasha said. “At the end of the day, the statute is pretty clear, and they haven’t explained why the statute doesn’t apply.”
James, the Oakland lawyer, called Pure Barre’s admission that it charged a training fee “a class-action attorney’s dream.”
Which could move things from the ballet barre to the California bar. And I don’t mean the “Cheers” kind.