How Corporations are Trapping Employees – What We Can Do to Stop Them

EmployeeImage by Mohamed Hassan
Op-Ed by state Reps. Tarik Khan, Donna Bullock, Ronni Green, and Sara Innamorato

It may sound to some like a fair bargain. A prospective employer offers you a job and promises to train you with valuable skills. In return, you agree to stick with the company for a specific time, so another employer doesn’t poach you once your training is complete. This is the premise of the training repayment agreement provisions (TRAPs), or employment contract clauses, that demand company loyalty in exchange for job training.  

However, as many employees are experiencing, these increasingly pervasive TRAPs are often more coercive than career-boosting.

As BreAnn Scally found out, the contract she signed with PetSmart to be a pet groomer locked her into two years of retail store work. When BreAnn tried to leave the low-pay job that left her feeling unfulfilled, the company took her to court for the $5,000 they claimed BreAnn owed them for their in-house pet grooming training.

At best, TRAPs have been described as a form of “student loan debt.” At worst, they have been described as “indentured servitude.” TRAPs leave employees stuck, often in multi-year contracts, unable to seek new opportunities outside their current job for fear of financial ruin.

TRAP clauses were once only found in the contracts of high-paying jobs. Sadly, it is becoming more common to see corporations force prospective employees to sign TRAPs for lower-paying positions with high turnover rates in exchange for sometimes little more than internal training programs. Today, nearly one in 10 U.S. workers is enmeshed in a TRAP.

Earlier this year, state Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny, and U.S. Rep. Summer Lee (D-PA) released a report with the American Economic Liberties Project regarding abusive practices by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Among other recommendations, their findings called for the abolition of TRAPs in the health care network and in other corporate settings.

Health care workers have been particularly susceptible to the sharp claws of TRAPs. For example, hospitals are increasingly targeting TRAPS to nurses who have recently received their licenses, are immigrants, and live in areas where there is a health care monopoly and few other options for employment. Once they sign these burdensome contracts, health care workers often find themselves trapped in environments where they are increasingly understaffed, underpaid and overworked.

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau has already launched an investigation into these “employer-driven debt” schemes, and states like New Jersey, California and Colorado have begun to take steps to prevent TRAPs from being laid. It’s time we also act to protect Pennsylvania workers.

We are joining several of our colleagues in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to introduce the “Protect Workers from Training Provision Agreement Provisions (TRAPs) Act” that would recognize all workers deserve a fair and safe environment without fear of financial retribution.

This legislation would prevent the use of TRAPs and investigate employers that use debt or the threat of debt as part of employment contracts. This bill would play a critical role in ensuring that companies retain employers because they offer a quality workplace, not because their workers cannot afford to escape.

Join us in this effort to prevent employers from springing TRAPs onto workers. Contact your state representative and let them know that you support legislation to prohibit the use of employer TRAPs in Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Tarik Khan, Ph.D., CRNP

State Rep. Sara Innamorato 
D-Allegheny County  

State Rep. Donna Bullock, J.D. 

State Rep. Roni Green 

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