Protestors attend a New York City Council Finance Committee hearing titled 'Amazon HQ2 Stage 2: Does the Amazon Deal Deliver for New York City Residents?
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Companies That Have Been Accused of Having a Toxic Work Culture

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Protestors attend a New York City Council Finance Committee hearing titled 'Amazon HQ2 Stage 2: Does the Amazon Deal Deliver for New York City Residents?
Drew Angerer / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images North America / Getty Images CC

Not Safe for Work

While most of us were hunkered down this spring and summer maintaining social distance amid the coronavirus pandemic, comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was busy dealing with a crisis of her own. DeGeneres found herself at the center of claims that her show was home to a toxic work environment, and she faced a drama that played out in news headlines and on social media, with some fellow celebrities even taking sides. The "Ellen DeGeneres Show," however, is merely the most recent example of a toxic work environment making headlines. From Amazon to Uber, here are some other recent notable examples.

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Ellen DeGeneres
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The Ellen DeGeneres Show

"The Ellen DeGeneres Show" has had a brutal summer marked by one revelation after the next about Ellen herself and the daytime talk show's culture as a whole. Ellen, who is famously known as being kind, may not be very kind after all, according to employees and others in the industry. In addition to 11 employees speaking out about a toxic work environment on her show (and one black employee alleging racist comments), Hollywood celebrities have come out saying it's an open Hollywood secret that DeGeneres is one of the meanest people in the business. But she seems to be weathering the storm. The latest season of the show has started airing, and DeGeneres kicked it off with an apology for the toxic culture that developed while she was at the helm. "As you may have heard this summer, there were allegations of a toxic work environment at our show," DeGeneres said. "I learned that things happen here that never should have happened. I take that very seriously. And I want to say, I am so sorry to the people who were affected." Here's hoping for better days ahead, Ellen.

Amazon
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Amazon

Long before the coronavirus pandemic put even more pressure on Amazon workers to perform, there were already plenty of reports of a toxic workplace culture at Amazon. Employees have complained of everything from work stress resulting from high performance quotas to being subjected to timed bathroom breaks and having to work in social isolation. An investigative report from the Daily Beast in 2019 revealed that 189 emergency calls were made from 46 Amazon warehouse sites for "employee mental health episodes." Employees have described Amazon in the past as "a dystopian work environment that is shockingly hostile and destructive to employees' mental health." The challenges for the e-commerce giant have only worsened this year amid the pandemic with the company firing staffers who raised concerns about worker safety at warehouses. A company vice president subsequently quit in protest over the firings.

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America's Got Talent
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America's Got Talent

Earlier this year, actress Gabrielle Union spoke out about why she decided to leave her post as a judge on "America's Got Talent" after a mere one season. The reason for her departure? A toxic culture on the show, says Union, who brought her complaints to NBC's human resources department. Among the issues was that show creator and judge Simon Cowell smoked in front of her despite the fact that she is severely allergic, and when Union raised her concerns, she was told nothing would be done about it. Union says that from day one on the show she felt "othered." "I felt isolated. I felt singled out as being difficult, when I'm asking for basic laws to be followed. I want to come to work and be healthy and safe and listened to." Union also complained of race issues she faced on the show.

NBC Entertainment
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NBC Entertainment

Working in the entertainment industry certainly has its challenges. One of the most recent reports of a toxic work environment comes from NBCUniversal, which has been seeking to replace a top reality television executive who faced a slew of charges that he created a toxic workplace. NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy is accused of bullying employees and talent. This report is linked to the complaints filed by Union at "America's Got Talent" but expands far beyond that single show. Current and former employees of the network's entertainment division said Telegdy regularly engaged in racist, sexist and homophobic behavior. An article in the Hollywood Reporter notes that Telegdy allegedly mocked "gay executives, sometimes to their faces; use homophobic and misogynistic slurs; and disparage or make sexual comments about the physical appearance of network talent."

Related: How to Deal with Age Discrimination at Work

TMZ
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TMZ

Racism, misogyny and verbal abuse are just some of the challenges allegedly faced by employees of the celebrity news site and television show TMZ, a show legendary for its brash tone. BuzzFeed spoke to about 24 employees who came forward after a lawsuit was filed against TMZ's parent companies, Warner Bros. Entertainment and EHM Productions, earlier this year. The employees allege gender discrimination and retaliation, among other things. Meanwhile, a TMZ spokesperson says the claims are a "blatant attempt to use negative publicity and inaccurate claims to force" a monetary settlement.

freshneasy
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Bon Appétit

A racist, toxic work environment is how some former employees of Bon Appetit describe their experience at the popular food and entertaining magazine. Earlier this year, the publication found itself flooded with public criticism from fans, contributors, and former and current employees. The central theme among the complaints: a work culture rampant with racism and inequality, and those complaints included the work culture of the publication's parent company, Condé Nast, as well. Business Insider published its own investigative report based on interviews with 14 current and former staff members who said people of color were treated "as 'second class' to white employees."

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Real Salt Lake
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Real Salt Lake

Those following the sporting world will likely be familiar with the name Real Salt Lake, a Utah soccer organization that earlier this year faced charges from 13 current and former employees of having a "toxic, sexist company culture." Rebecca Cade, who worked as a sideline reporter until 2018 said: "It was definitely the most toxic environment I've ever worked in in my entire life." In particular, owner Dell Loy Hansen is alleged to have made racist comments the organization's management is alleged to have created a sexist, misogynistic culture.

Uber
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Uber

Aggressive. Unrestrained. These are just some of the descriptions that surfaced in 2017 amid a scandal surrounding Uber's work culture. Reports in The New York Times made clear just how unpleasant it was to work at the successful Silicon Valley's company, according to allegations made by current and former employees, painting a picture of a place where "workers are sometimes pitted against one another and where a blind eye is turned to infractions from top performers." Some of the most disturbing accusations included a manager allegedly groping a female co-worker's breasts at a company gathering, and yet another top employee allegedly shouting homophobic slurs at a subordinate. 

Worst: Apple Store
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Forever 21
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Forever 21

Sure, their clothes are affordable, but beyond that, the company has been sued by employees on numerous occasions. In 2017, for instance, one employee sued Forever 21 for "extreme emotional damages" after allegedly being filmed by a hidden camera in an employee bathroom. The company CEO apparently had a mere 30 percent approval rating at one point. Among the many complaints was that Forever 21 forces employees to remain in the stores during their lunch break and stay long beyond the end of paid shifts. The company was also the focus of a class-action lawsuit filed by employees in 2012 who claimed they were forced to work without being paid.

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Goldman Sachs
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Goldman Sachs

Also back in 2012, Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith penned an op-ed for The New York Times explaining that he was leaving the company after 12 years because of the toxic culture. Smith, who began working at the company as an intern while completing schooling at Stanford, wrote: "I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it." 

Smith went on to explain that when he first joined the company he found a workplace that revolved "around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients," but that was no longer the case by the time Smith departed. Instead, he said Goldman Sachs was a company where employees talked callously about ripping off their clients.

Related: 30 Ways Your Employer Could Be Cheating You

Walmart
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Walmart

While the retail giant is popular for its rock-bottom prices, Walmart has also been the subject of plenty of criticism, particularly about how it has treated employees over the years. It seems at one point the company (which includes Sam's Club) was the focus of about 5,000 lawsuits annually from employees. Among the lawsuits filed over the years was the case of Wal-Mart vs. Dukes, which alleged sexual discrimination against women with regard to pay and promotions. Other past lawsuits have alleged the company forces employees to work off the clock.

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