Employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show describe a toxic work culture in which many experience fear, racism, and a general disregard for their health and well-being. And most importantly, they say that they live in fear of retribution for speaking up or voicing their concerns is too strong, keeping the environment from any hope of change.
In April, employees of her show complained that producers had not clearly communicated anything about working hours, pay, or anything else regarding their work status for over a month. While one former employee told BuzzFeed News that as the face and head of the show, DeGeneres herself should “take more responsibility” for the workplace conditions, it's mainly these producers and senior managers that most of the former employees blame for the everyday "toxicity."
Executive producers Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly, and Andy Lassner told BuzzFeed News in a statement that they take responsibility for the day-to-day of the Ellen show and they "are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us."
"We take all of this very seriously and we realize," they continued, "as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better."
One particular Black female former employee who was at the show for a year and a half received enough racist comments and microaggressions from management that she left work one day and never came back. She was told to expect to be confused with another Black employee, and was called the "PC police" when she pointed out offensive terms like "spirit animal" being used on show segments. According to the report, she alleged that she left the company after a meeting with executive producer Ed Glavin, in which she was admonished for suggesting the show change some of its language, for asking for a raise (because she found out another employee with the same job was getting paid more), and suggesting Ellen employees receive diversity and inclusion training.
A handful of other former employees alleged that the show's senior staff paid little care to the mental health and well-being of their employees. One said they were fired after taking medical leave following a suicide attempt; another was reprimanded for making a GoFundMe to cover medical costs that weren't covered by insurance and told to take it down; another was fired after taking bereavement days to attend two family funerals that were coincidentally in the same year.
“That’s the definition of a toxic work environment," the latter former employee told BuzzFeed News, "where they make you feel like you’re going insane and then you’re like, no, everything I was feeling was right."
Rumours that DeGeneres doesn’t always practice her “be kind” mantra have been swirling around her for a while. But things started to come to a head at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In late March, comedian Kevin T. Porter asked people on Twitter to share “the most insane stories you’ve heard about Ellen [DeGeneres] being mean,” and the tweet received over 2,600 replies. And while there were no specific stories of DeGeneres’ behaviour in the report, one former employee said did the staff seems to instead practise another mantra: “Be kind to the world, not your employees.”
Refinery29 reached out to Ellen DeGeneres for comment.