PetSmart uses the term “Grooming Academy” to describe its grooming service employee training program, which makes it sound a lot more glamourous and pedagogical than it is. In reality, it’s just a run-of-the-mill training program like employers everywhere provide to employees as a normal business operating expense.
Except PetSmart then expects employees to stay at the company a minimum amount of time or pay thousands of dollars.
Now it’s being sued in California.
BreAnn Scally, who previously worked for PetSmart as a pet groomer, filed a class action lawsuit in California on Thursday alleging that the company forces its trainees to sign oppressive contracts that unfairly burden workers with debt.
“[PetSmart] is engaged in a scheme to trap trainee pet groomers in their low-wage jobs by levying thousands of dollars in abusive and unenforceable debts against them,” legal organization Towards Justice said in a press release announcing the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, PetSmart promises potential employees and would-be pet groomers “free, paid training where they will receive exclusive instruction from a dedicated teacher in a classroom setting as well as a supervised, hands-on grooming experience.”
The reality of that training — which PetSmart reportedly calls its “Grooming Academy” — is allegedly nowhere near as rosy as PetSmart would make it seem.
“Prospective groomers quickly find themselves grooming dogs for paying customers and may have to struggle for attention from overextended trainers or salon managers,” the complaint says. “Despite its academic-sounding name, Grooming Academy does not provide employees with a recognized degree or credentialing. And once groomers complete Grooming Academy, they are thrust into a demanding and sometimes dangerous job, often working for barely above minimum wage.”
If a PetSmart employee who has gone through the groomer training decides it isn’t the job for them, the complaint alleges, they are not free to leave.
“PetSmart requires that all employees who enroll in Grooming Academy sign a Training Repayment Agreement Provision (‘TRAP’),” the complaint says. “The TRAP requires PetSmart groomers to take on $5,000 of debt to PetSmart in exchange for Grooming Academy training. PetSmart forgives that debt only if the worker stays at their job for two years after they begin training, no matter how little they are paid or how poorly they are treated.”
That debt still holds even if an employee is fired or laid off, the complaint says.
This is crazy, but it’s a growing movement in corporate America to transfer the cost of training employees back onto employees themselves.
PetSmart doesn’t pay enough money to its hourly workers to expect that kind of loyalty.
Employees taking their on-the-job training to another job where it can benefit them more is a practice as old as employment itself.
If you don’t want them to do that, pay more money and provide better working conditions. It’s really that simple.