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Toxic Workplace Culture | Co-Authors: Ian Hurley & Bram Lecker


Toxic Workplace Culture

In September 2010, Bell Canada set a high benchmark for corporate social responsibility with their “Let’s Talk” PR Campaign. Impressively, they took the mental health dialogue out of dark and closeted spaces and blasted it into the public domain. Bell engages celebrities to deliver powerful messages to destroy the stigma related to mental health illness. Furthermore, they donate 5 cents from each text, call, tweet and social media campaign to mental health initiatives. #BellLetsTalk has been tweeted millions of times and the campaign has raised over $6M this year to “support Canada’s mental health“. Yet, this week, Bell’s own employees have accused this employer of harbouring a toxic workplace culture that caused mental distress and serious illnesses, bad enough for people to quit their jobs.

“The Bell Effect”

On November 20, 2017, CBC News published an article that exposed allegations of this toxic workplace culture. A 20-year employee, Andrea Rizzo, described working conditions at the company’s Scarborough call centre as a “non-stop nightmare”. She claims managers put extreme pressure on employees to upsell customers to meet sales targets.

Ms. Rizzo states that she suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome. Following her diagnosis, her doctors recommended reduced sales targets. She explains that Bell temporarily lowered her targets but then increased them in December 2016. She is currently on stress leave after being placed on a performance improvement plan, allegedly because she was “unable to meet performance expectations” established by Bell.

“I was having panic attacks,” she says. “I was stressed out and crying, thinking ‘I don’t have enough time to get my numbers up. I’m not only speaking on behalf of myself but everyone else,” says Rizzo. “It’s not just me.”

The CBC story hit a nerve with Ms. Rizzo’s colleagues. More than 600 current and former Bell employees contacted the broadcaster, describing similar conditions. Some felt that quitting was their only option. Ms. Rizzo, has not considered quitting. Instead, she has filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, alleging discrimination based on her disability.

Bell denies all these allegations. Yet, one cannot help but draw a sharp contrast between Bell’s public support for mental health initiatives and the seemingly toxic workplace culture within. CBC News suggests healthcare workers treating Bell employees even have a name for it:  They call it “The Bell Effect”.

Costs of a Toxic Workplace Culture

Employees are seeking stress leave with increasing frequency. The insurance industry will attest to anxiety and depression as the top reasons for short-term disability claims. No doubt, this has an impact on the overall cost of disability benefits for everyone.

Furthermore, employee absence and turnover can quickly render a business inefficient with a direct impact to the bottom line.  And most of all, organizations harbouring a toxic workplace culture leave themselves wide open to expensive settlements from constructive dismissal lawsuits

Cleaning up a Toxic Workplace Culture

Bell certainly has some work to do to manage the negative PR. These allegations, by hundreds of their employees, threaten to overshadow any good coming out of the Let’s Talk campaign. However, if the allegations hold true, then they have an even steeper climb ahead.

Bell management might have to take an inward look to clean up their house. No doubt, the first step is to prevent workplace harassment from taking hold from the onset. Bell might have to evaluate how to properly support employees in their jobs so it does not cause them unnecessary stress.

Workplace intimidation and harassment that makes employees sick is completely against the law in Canada. There is no reason why any employee should be victimized by a toxic workplace culture.

At Lecker & Associates, we have extensive experience representing employees like Ms. Rizzo. We specialize in employment and disability law. We expertly advance claims for wrongful dismissal, constructive dismissal, human rights violations, and the denial of short-term and long-term disability benefits.

If you are feeling trapped in a job surrounded by a toxic workplace culture and quitting is not an option, contact us. We understand this game very well.


For additional articles like this one, visit our Employee Rights Blog. We update it frequently with information useful for all employees of Ontario.

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