Popular Cookie Company Sparks Debate For Asking Job Applicants To Work A Trial 'Volunteer' Shift For Free

It's long been standard practice for food jobs, but some think it's time for change — especially given the company's reputation.

angry woman, crumbl cookies sign, job ad in which bakers were asked to work a trial shift for free Tada Images, Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock.com; Reddit; Canva Pro

Americans seem to be going through a bit of a transformation when it comes to our work lives, and many once standard procedures have begun to be criticized as inappropriate or even downright exploitative. 

A recent job ad from ubiquitous bakery chain Crumbl Cookies is a perfect example. Its requests for job applicants have left many people online furious, especially given the company's checkered past as an employer.


In a recent job ad, Crumbl Cookies asked applicants to work a trial shift for free, as 'volunteers.'

The Utah-based chain of bakeries have popped up everywhere across the US in recent years — drive past a strip mall and you'll probably see one. The chain is known for its rotating array of inventive and elaborate cookie flavors like frosted strawberry Pop-Tart, and peaches and cream. They even did a selection of "Barbie"-themed cookies over the summer.

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All that growth, of course, means a need for more employees, right? But after one of the company's recent job ads has circulated around the internet, some are wondering if one of the keys to the company's runaway success might be good old-fashioned exploitation.

The ad asks applicants to work for free to see if they're the right fit, a common practice in the food industry.

The screenshot of the ad appears to have first surfaced on Reddit in a subReddit for fans of the cookie chain, where users said the ad came from a Crumbl location in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. It is seeking bakers to work the location's overnight shifts from midnight to 5:00 a.m.

crumbl cookie job ad in which they asked applicants to work a trial shift for freePhoto: Reddit


The ad starts off like any other, with a description of duties, schedule and pay rate. And then it takes a hard turn into WTF territory. "Please note that before you are officially hired, you must complete a trial shift," the job ad reads, going on to explain that said shift is an "unpaid" assessment of whether applicants are a fit for the job. 

"So if you really want this job," the ad concludes, "come volunteer for 5 hrs and then we'll talk from there." Hard to tell what's more audacious — the word "volunteer," or the fact that the "volunteers" in question are being asked to do their volunteering on the graveyard shift.

Working a shift for free, or completing a "stage" (pronounced "stahj") as it's called in the culinary world, is standard practice in many parts of the food service industry for chefs and bakers. It's a way for both applicants and management to gauge if the job is the right fit. Some high-end restaurants even ask prospective servers to do it.

That doesn't mean it's right or ethical, of course, and as any one who's worked in it will tell you, the food service industry is rife with unfair if not downright abusive working conditions. So it's not exactly surprising that this Crumbl ad had lots of people online outraged, especially given Crumbl's history.


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Crumbl Cookies is notorious for being a bad place to work — and has a history of violating federal child labor laws.

In 2022, the US Department of Labor issued more than $57,000 worth of fines to 11 Crumbl Cookies franchises across six different states for violating child labor laws and exploiting 46 underage employees. The franchises "allowed young employees — many 14 and 15 years of age — to work more than the law permits or in hazardous or prohibited occupations," according to the DOL's report.

A search of social media reveals just how poorly some of the company's franchises treat their workforce. One former employee on TikTok said she finally quit after ending a shift at 2 a.m. and being due back for her next one three hours later at 5 a.m. "The kicker is I was literally a minor," she wrote in the comments.



Allegations brought by other former employees range from wage theft to inadequate breaks, with one former employee on TikTok reporting that during her tenure at one of the companies' bakeries, "we had an incident where two kids fainted because" they weren't allowed any "real food."




The franchise believed to have posted the job ad seeking "volunteers" to work for free seems to be similarly brazen. In the Reddit discussion that ensued about the job ad, one user described a social media post from an applicant who shared an email in which she was notified she would not only have to work the free shift, but would be required to sign an NDA about the experience.

alleged email from owner of crumbl cookies franchise that asked applicants to work a trial shift for freePhoto: Imgur


Working a free shift may be standard practice in the restaurant and culinary world, but this is a whole new level of brazen.

Perhaps the lesson here is that unfair procedures like free shifts or "stages" just make it easier for exploitative businesses to take even more advantage of employees. All the more reason to get rid of the practice altogether.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.