What to do when your workplace is toxic

If you are working in an abusive environment you may feel trapped, but there is help.

Your first steps depend upon the issues in your workplace and your employer’s existing policies.

You should then identify the reporting procedures through your supervisor, human resources or your union.

Beyond the structures in the workplace there are also legal protections for workers.

For example, if your concerns are about being paid, being granted leave (such as parental leave) or sufficient notice of termination, your issues are likely covered by Manitoba Employment Standards.

You can find information about your employer’s responsibilities on the Manitoba Employment Standards website or give them a call if you have questions. When consultation is insufficient, you can file a claim, which will be investigated and ruled upon.

Beyond this, if you are facing discrimination on the basis of a trait protected by human rights law, such as your gender identity, race or disability, you can file a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

Speaking with a lawyer might also be in your best interest. If you have a family income below $50,000, you can access the University of Manitoba Legal Help Centre free of charge.

Unfortunately, even with all of these options, the help available can be limited.

Recently, former and current Stella’s employees have publicly accused their employer of harassment and labour law violations at work. A major theme of their stories is the lack of response from existing systems for reporting in their workplace and to external bodies.

Instead, workers banded together to demand change via social media. They felt there was no other way to have their concerns addressed.

These workers also talked about the fear of being fired if they complained.

This is a real challenge. If you are not unionized, you risk your job by speaking up.

Employers do not need a reason to terminate you if they give you adequate notice, which is between one and eight weeks depending on the length of your employment at the company. And even then, an employer can fire you without just cause and with no notice so long as they pay your wage for the duration of the notice period.

Part-time employees face the added problem of having their hours cut, which requires no notice.

Workers who are financially insecure can feel trapped in terrible jobs they require for survival. There are massive power imbalances in the workplace, which seem insurmountable.

There, however, are a few tools to wield if you find yourself in a horrible job.

While it is certainly not easy to find a new job (particularly if you are already balancing the demands of work, school and life), it might be worth considering a new position. After all, everyone deserves to work in a healthy environment.

Remember, you do not have to do this alone. Seek job search support through a community agency or your school.

At U of M, the Career Services team can help you plan to leave your job by linking you with hiring employers.

Before accepting a new position, do your research. If you are leaving a difficult situation at work, it might be reassuring to have insight into the new environment you are entering.

For example, check out reviews on glassdoor.ca. Glassdoor allows workers to post anonymous ratings about companies.

Many include detailed discussion about the pros and cons of the job. This can help establish a sense of their treatment of their workers.

Stella’s, for example, has only 2.8 stars out of 5.0 and includes reviews from over a year ago that list some of the labour concerns that are currently being discussed in the media. A review from Oct. 31, 2017, discusses pay mistakes, unpaid staff meetings and a lack of breaks.

While Glassdoor can provide a window into a company’s culture, remember that there is no way to check the accuracy of anonymous claims.

If you are seriously considering taking a job with poor reviews on Glassdoor, ask to speak with some of the other workers to get a sense of their experience.

Alternatively, you might be able to reach out to a former employee if they publicly list your prospective employer as a previously worked job.

Still, there are challenges to ensuring your rights are respected if your workplace is problematic and you do not have a union to protect you. When social media is the only way for a worker to get their voice heard, it is likely time to discuss societal and legal changes.

In the meantime, if you are in a toxic workplace, the situation is not hopeless. It is time to get help and get out.