Can an employer force you to purchase the product or service that they sell?
June 11, 2010 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Can an employer force you to purchase the product or service that they sell?

I work for a small company (~120 employees). Recently the management decided that all manager level employees and eventually all call center employees must subscribe to the service (it's ~$35 a month minimum) that they sell. This is so that everyone who sells and works with the product "knows and loves it". They aren't providing any financial compensation or offering it at a reduced price. They haven't come out and said that you'll be fired if you don't buy it, but it's "strongly encouraged".

Is this legal? I have already chosen to subscribe earlier on my own, but forcing people to do so leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Should I report this to someone?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There is a difference, however fine, between "must subscribe" and "strongly encouraged".
posted by adamdschneider at 9:44 AM on June 11, 2010

What is the consequence to not subscribing?
posted by odinsdream at 9:51 AM on June 11, 2010

Which country... Canada? US? England? Which state or province? Since we don't know this you're just going to get generalized answers.
posted by crapmatic at 9:59 AM on June 11, 2010

No, they can't.

If you're in a so-called "right to work" state, though, that might not help you.
posted by mhoye at 10:18 AM on June 11, 2010

In part, I understand that it'd be good to use the product to know about it's quirks that people might have questions about, but not reducing the price seems really weird. Especially that it's a subscription service, not a one-time cost. Sounds like an easy way to boost customer counts in the short term.

I'm guessing Anon is in the US ($35, "center"), and I don't know if there are any state or federal rules about required purchases or subscriptions as part of working somewhere.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:18 AM on June 11, 2010

From anon:
The state is Indiana.

They haven't yet stated what the consequences of not subscribing is. But they don't hesitate to fire people for minor offenses.

They can't discount the service because they resell it for a 3rd party.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:46 AM on June 11, 2010

My replies to the clarifications:
1) It might time to start looking for a job elsewhere, if that works with your situation otherwise.

2) Maybe you can talk with your employer about getting a bulk discount.

This really sounds like they're trying to trump up the sales numbers without having to push the product. If this is the only issue with working there and you earn enough that this isn't a huge hit on your personal budget, maybe bow to this request. But if this is just another ridiculous workplace issue, back to suggestion 1: get out when you can.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:50 AM on June 11, 2010

They can't discount the service because they resell it for a 3rd party.

Yes, they can. That is, they can reimburse you for some or all of it. This just sounds like an excuse.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:58 AM on June 11, 2010

You've got to pick your battles. How does $35 figure in the grand scheme of your monthly compensation? Less than 1 or 2 percent I'd roll with it. At 10 percent I'd think twice.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:21 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with everyone here. If they really wanted employees to "know and love" the service then they'd buy it for everyone. Making everyone pay for it is a sneaky, dishonest way to inflate sales numbers. Might even be fraudulent.
posted by sbutler at 11:22 AM on June 11, 2010 [14 favorites]

My thoughts exactly, SBulter.
posted by Gainesvillain at 11:40 AM on June 11, 2010

I don't think the question is "is it sketchy?", because it pretty clearly is sketchy and the poster seems to know this, I think the questions are "is it legal?" and "what can I do about this thing that is pretty sketch?".
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:44 AM on June 11, 2010

Nthing the idea of that just being a way to inflate subscription numbers to make them look better.

Read your employment contract front to back, find out about Indiana being a right-to-work state. Those two there will give you a good knowledge base to go on.

Read the entire employee handbook/company policy while you're at it -- that's how I learned that I'd been screwed out of about 6-8 hours of pay a month, because I wasn't supposed to clock out for lunch while being the only manager on duty. Maybe it won't have direct answers to your current dilemma, but you might get other interesting answers.
posted by Heretical at 12:13 PM on June 11, 2010

My company is a big fan of "eating your own dog food" but we would never make the employees PAY for it. Ridiculous.
Absolutely sketchy - someone up the corporate chain is getting himself a bonus for creatively boosting sales figures.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 12:23 PM on June 11, 2010

Yeah, this is sketchy as hell, but not illegal. Especially not in Indiana. I'm pretty sure we're the right-to-work poster state.

I'd certainly openly ask the question "What happens when, after "strongly encouraging" call center people to purchase the service, they end up NOT loving it. What if they seriously dislike the service?"
posted by Thorzdad at 1:16 PM on June 11, 2010

And, just as an aside...WTF happened to companies actually training people on the stuff they sell/support? This thing smells like some blowhard mba's idea to get employees to pay for their own training.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:18 PM on June 11, 2010

Anything in writing (incl. e-mail) about the pressure? Might be worthwhile to anonymously forward that to the vendor.
posted by dhartung at 1:44 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

They can't unless you are contractually obligated to purchase the service or goods. I know people who work in advertising and they can be fired for being seen using a competitor's product at work. For instance, if you are seen drinking Coke at work, and the firm has the Pepsi account (I know, since this happened to a friend, she was not fired, but told she would be if it happened again). But the company could not require that people buy cases of Coke.
posted by fifilaru at 3:31 PM on June 11, 2010

It's shady. I work at a bank, and although all of our stock/option trades have to be approved by the bank, we don't have to use the bank's own brokerage service to make the trades. That's because the bank is a legitimate company, rather than a scam.

Since you can be fired for anything except being a member of a protected class, I guess you can get fired for not buying your company's service. Before you get fired, find another job for a company that's less shady. If they want you to be enthusiastic about something, they should give it to you for free. Otherwise you are going to resent them, which you obviously do. Life is too short to resent your employer.

Also, I find fifilaru's friend's comment to be suspect. "Warned" for drinking Coke instead of Pepsi? Not buying it.

(Now, if you were a NASCAR racer drinking Pepsi at a photoshoot and Coke was your sponsor, that might be a problem. But if you are making the Pepsi website while drinking a Coke, and someone sees this as a problem, they may be legally retarded. Run as fast as you can.)
posted by jrockway at 1:56 AM on June 12, 2010

This is sketchy, and I *believe*, NBAL, that it is illegal. Basically they're re-negotiating your contract... We lower your salary by X, and provide you a service with a retail cost of Y, which only costs us Y-Z, and boosts our sales. Yay us.

Are you an assertive person? Go and tell them that you feel pressured, don't want the service but will use it if you're provided it for free.
posted by Quadlex at 8:06 PM on June 16, 2010

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