Culture Trip’s Culture of Fear
Culture Trip has made the headlines as a valuable resource for intrepid travellers. While their network of articles, recommendations and videos have made them popular with visitors, behind the scenes there’s an entirely different culture.
Tech-based news site WIRED broke a damming editorial, featuring accusations from ex-members of staff. Among the accusations, the common denominator was the actions of CEO and founder Kris Naudts. His staff were feeling the effects of his belittling, insulting and bullying behaviour.
While the company offers wellness benefits, the CEO reportedly berated staff to work longer hours and reveal confidential information about previous employers. On top of this, staff reported high levels of uncertainty, with a staggering staff turnover and seismic shifts in direction at a moment’s notice.
Naudts had also allegedly devalued employees by publicly humiliating them; in one case he reportedly continued to throw crumpled papers at an employee continuously.
Employees also spoke out against his habit of firing their colleagues suddenly, for seemingly arbitrary reasons. 20 colleagues were reportedly suddenly made redundant, with the only communication being a single email citing a variety of reasons for the severance.
During a series of layoffs, HR was only brought on board after a list of names was mistakenly left in a photocopier, prompting widespread speculation as to whether these employees were facing termination.
NDAs were also widely used within the company, to prevent staff from speaking out on their experience with their employer. However, negative reviews have continued to rack up on the company’s Glassdoor page.
Lastly, the pay date of employees was moved from the 28th of the month, to the 5th of the month with just two weeks’ notice. There was no consultation with employees prior to the change, which had a serious impact on their ability to pay their rent and bills.
What does the law say?
There are a lot of unpleasant accusations within the expose, but what are the legal implications? Being a bad boss isn’t inherently illegal, but there are legal implications for many of these allegations.
Workplace bullying isn’t against the law, unless it’s on the basis of a protected class such as age, gender, sexuality, religion etc. If the CEO was bullying female employees but not males, then this would be unlawful. Harassment is illegal, without targeting a protected class, and should be tackled swiftly.
The incident of throwing paper at the employee could be seen as violent harassment and would be deemed unlawful. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers have a duty to protect their employees from violence, perpetrated by other employees and external contacts.
On sudden firing and redundancies, there’s a duty for the employer to ensure that these dismissals are fair and warranted. Employers have to show that there’s a valid reason for the dismissal and that they acted reasonably, including fully investigating any issues and acting consistently.
Employees have the right to ask for a written statement, detailing the reason behind their dismissal, if they have completed 2 years’ service. These employees also have the right to appeal their dismissal on the grounds that it is unfair.
Those with under 2 years’ service can still appeal an unlawful dismissal, which would include dismissal on the grounds of disability or requiring maternity leave.
GDPR laws may have been breached by the person that allowed confidential data relating to employees to be circulated by leaving their documents in the photocopier. Any data breach should be reported to the Information Commissioner within 72 hours, and employees should be informed that their data may have been compromised.
Changing the pay date of employees is legal, but only after a consultative process that ends with a change of the employment contract. Otherwise this may be deemed a breach of contract, as it’s a fundamental change to the employment contract.
How could this have been avoided?
A strategic HR practitioner should be able to spot all these legal ramifications, but if they are brought in too late there’s little they can do. With more power given to HR, they can push back on these points and ensure that the company isn’t placed in legal peril.
However, managing the relationships between a CEO and HR can be difficult, especially within a start-up. In these organisations, HR can be caught in a battle between the whims of the founder and their legal obligations. While Culture Trip does have wellness initiatives in place, these clearly sit at odds with the culture of the workplace.
This creates a disconnect between the intention of these perks and the way that employees are expected to act. The organisation should be aligned to avoid sending mixed messages; employees can’t feel comfortable using unlimited holidays if they’re being harangued to work overtime regularly.
As well as ensuring the employer meets their legal obligations to consult with employees on changing pay date, they may also advise that employers add perks to the renegotiated contracts and make discretionary funds available too.
Overall, if HR could be involved in these changes earlier and have more power to advise the C-suite, much of this reputational damage could be avoided.