August 24, 2009
by William Pilgrim
Urban Restaurants, Inc., which operates Urban Fondue, Bartini, and Pearl Catering in Northwest Portland, recently attempted to charge a $4.50 fee to applicants responding to their Craigslist.com post announcing jobs at upcoming ventures in Sherwood, Portland, and Vancouver, WA. The posting’s full text can be read here at ShamelessRestaurants.com.
Due to pressure from workers and complaints to Craigslist, the original post was pulled down in a matter of hours.
In response to the ad on PortlandFoodandDrink.com, several sympathetic restaurateurs voiced concerns about the labor-intensive process of sifting through resumes. One Craigslist posting, for a single position, could yield a hundred resumes, which a potential employer then has to review. A posting as broad as Urban Restaurants’ — “hiring for ALL restaurant, plus catering positions” — could produce hundreds of responses.
The ad, which has been verified as originating from Urban Restaurants, Inc.’s executive chef Kevin Kennedy, states “we had to hire an HR Assistant to process all resumes, therefore, you are kindly requested to send a processing fee of $4.50, through PayPal) [sic] along with your resume.”
However, it’s doubtful that human resources costs are the sole reason Kennedy tried to force workers to pay to apply. Though Kennedy did not respond to the PRWA’s request for comment, in an email sent to a local restaurant manager (and subsequently obtained by the PRWA), Kennedy wrote, “our company has found on the East Coast that it elliminates [sic] the the Riff Raff! These days HR is important and expensive. Good Business!”
Any seasoned industry veteran would be instantly turned off by what Kennedy calls “good business.” The $4.50 fee may seem small, but the cost of conducting business should fall to the employer, not the potential employee. Plus, it’s also an indication of the type of work environment a worker can expect if she or he is lucky enough to be offered a position. What else would an employer like this charge workers for? Will they be expected to use their tips to cover laundry costs or shortages in the register? Will they be expected to work off the clock or otherwise subsidize the costs of doing business?
One of the first job seekers to report the ad to Craigslist on August 8, 2009, who wishes to remain anonymous, was a service-industry veteran offended by what she calls the “scaminess” of charging a worker to apply. The story was picked up by Portland Food and Drink shortly after.
As a former hiring manager herself, she says that “even if you receive 100 resumes…a quick peak [sic] at the most recent employers will fully take care of that.” If only 100 applicants responded — and an ad as broad as this could easily receive many times that — Urban Restaurants, Inc. would have made $450 to do what many managers do regularly in the course of business. It’s unreasonable to charge an applicant $4.50 to only have their application glanced at, especially if there’s no guarantee of a follow-up interview or phone call.
Unfortunately, there are few protections for potential employees in cases like this. Lake Oswego labor lawyer Jon Egan notes that there are legal protections in Rhode Island against an employer charging application fees, but says, “I haven’t found any other state or federal statutes specifically addressing this issue. There is certainly no Oregon law on this issue.”
Whether or not it’s legal, it is unethical to charge potential employees to pay to apply. Paying Urban Restaurants, Inc. $4.50 only ensures that an assistant will look at a resume. There is no guarantee that the assistant would extensively review a worker’s qualifications or give them the consideration you’d expect from paying to apply. Plus, the implications of this tactic — that workers are “Riff Raff” if they feel uncomfortable paying to apply for a job — are unconscionable, especially given that Oregon’s unemployment rate is hovering around 12 percent.
Given this ad’s quick demise, we hope that other employers take note.