In the beginning, everyone loves working at EB Games.
The dream job: being involved with the games industry, with like-minded people who have the same hobbies, enjoy the same things, speak the same language. A place where everyone loves video games. Of course they do; why else would they be working at EB Games?
We spoke to a number of people for whom working at EB was a dream job.
That dream job would turn into a nightmare.
Haylee calls it the “initiation” period.
“My first few weeks at EB,” she says, “I was just kind of filled with awe at how cool the job was.”
Working long hours, going out for drinks afterwards. Being part of the ‘culture’. Working with video games, with people who would become friends. In time, some would become lifelong friends.
A dream job.
So, in the beginning, Haylee thought nothing of doing a few extra hours for free. In a strange way she was just happy to be among friends.
Haylee would often work 10-hour days. Only four of those hours would be paid. Haylee would turn up to help at midnight launches and she wouldn’t get paid. Sometimes Haylee did it because she wanted to. Many times she did it because it was expected of her.
Speaking to a number of current and ex-EB employees, this is a consistent theme.
“Everyone I've ever talked to talks about how much they loved working at EB and wanted to work for free when they first started,” explains Haylee. “It was just like this awesome club, and you were a part of it.”
Haylee was a hard worker. She was a good worker. Eventually she started to question why so many of her worked hours were unpaid but she didn’t question too hard. At one point a superior informed her in no uncertain terms that he could “replace her in five minutes flat”. She quickly got the picture. This world will never suffer a shortage of young people who want to work in a video games store.
So Haylee kept working. Eventually her colleagues started talking about promotions, about an Assistant Manager’s position; Haylee’s dream job. It was then that Haylee was introduced to what she calls the ‘carrot dangle’. The more hours you work for free, the more you represent the EB ‘ethos’. The more you represent the EB ethos the more likely you are to get that promotion to Assistant Manager, full time, at EB. Living the dream.
Haylee kept working. She was always working.
During Haylee’s second year at the company there was an event. All EB managers had to attend. Haylee was still a casual, but she caught the train to attend, to take part. To remain part of that “awesome club”, to hang out.
Later that night Haylee wanted to catch up with her friend -- an old manager of hers -- but he was in the midst of an argument with his girlfriend and wasn’t in the mood. Another EB employee, however, was still in town. They caught up. They had a few drinks. Later, she says, when they were alone, he made a move. Haylee wasn’t interested. She said no. According to Haylee, he was persistent. Again, she said no. “I said no about 30,000 times”. But Haylee claims he wouldn’t listen. He wouldn’t stop.
“It was rape,” alleges Haylee.
Haylee caught the 4am train home, in tears for the whole trip.
Working at EB made a lot of sense for Randall. The PS4 and Xbox One were close to launch, his local store was busy and needed three or four more casuals to fill up the roster.
Randall had a friend who worked there. He’d spent a fair amount of time at the store and knew the guys. Why not? He was a post-graduate student and, quite frankly, needed the extra cash. Randall applied, had a quick interview, and was hired on the spot.
The first thing Randall noticed was EB’s laser-like focus on “Key-Performance-Indicators” (KPIs). It was a very sales driven environment and numbers were everything. Randall was constantly being told to push for pre-order sales, for trades, for game guarantees. In addition, staff were being ranked at both the store on a state and national level, meaning that no matter how well the store was doing one member of staff was always ranked last.
And if you were ranked last in the store you could expect a call from Mark DiStefano.
Mark DiStefano was Randall’s District Manager, one step above his store manager. According to Randall, he had a reputation for calling up whoever came last to deliver a constant barrage of abuse. Randall was never in last position, but that didn’t stop him from receiving similar calls.
“Mark would verbally abuse us,” says Randall. “Using phrases like, 'You're a fucking idiot', 'Fucking bastard', 'One more fuck-up and you're fucking gone'.”
It was intimidating but Randall had heard enough. After a few of these phone calls he asked Mark for a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issues. Surely this could be solved over a coffee.
Randall claims Mark refused the meeting.
That’s when things began to escalate, he says.
Months later: Randall was covering a shift at another store. A store he’d never worked at before. Whilst he was working, Mark DiStefano arrived.
One hour later, Randall was talking to a customer. Randall claims Mark stormed out of the office and into the store, walked directly towards a Minecraft display and started swearing loudly, picking objects off the display, violently tossing them around -- while the customer was still in the store.
“I was confused and in shock at this point,” says Randall.
The customer left.
Then, according to Randall, Mark beckoned him over.
“Don’t you fucking know anything, you fucking useless bastard?”
Randall tried to explain: this was his first time at the store, he didn’t have anything to do with it. It didn’t matter.
In a rage, Mark DiStefano allegedly ripped down the entire display, throwing stock everywhere.
“I didn't really know what to do. I mean, how do you even respond to that? I just kept my mouth shut and did what he asked.”
Later a regular staff member arrived at the store. He chatted to Mark as Randall cleaned up the stock Mark had been throwing around.
Mark motioned towards Randall, who is of Indian descent, and allegedly said the following:
“He’s gonna end up as a sleazy car salesman or a taxi driver.”
Haylee didn’t tell anyone about the alleged rape. EB Games doesn't have an internal HR department -- she had no idea who she should tell.
For two months she kept it to herself. She continued working at the store.
Eventually, Haylee broke down.
She told her boyfriend, another EB employee. Haylee protested, but her boyfriend was adamant she tell a manager. They went together. Haylee was terrified.
Terrified of making an official complaint, of having people misconstrue the situation, of being shunned. Terrified people wouldn’t believe her, that she would be judged.
The language Haylee’s manager used exacerbated those concerns.
“He kept telling how it was going to be really hard for people to believe me, that I had to be really sure because it would be taken to the police and get serious, that they’d question me and stuff.
“Basically he kept going on about how nobody would believe me.”
“Maybe it came down to the fact that it really was some 19-year-old store casual’s word against an employee and it was easier to just brush it all under the rug.”
Haylee was spooked. She didn’t want to go to the police. She was told the issue would be taken higher up the chain, but never heard anything further.
Two people we spoke to confirmed this conversation took place. EB Games said it has no record of any such complaint in that area.
“My EB name tag said 'Randy',” explained Randall. “Mark actually never called me that. Ever. He wouldn't address me by name. It was usually 'Apu' or 'the Indian guy'.”
Randall says the abuse continued to escalate.
According to Randall, there was another incident: Mark DiStefano demanded a meeting. Turn up at 8am on the dot or you were fired.
Mark claimed someone working at the store was a thief. An item of stock was missing. Mark’s solution: every single member of staff had to provide their Xbox LIVE account names, PSN, personal emails – everything. If they didn’t, they would be fired on the spot.
Under tremendous pressure, everyone obliged except Brad.
Brad was a friend of Randall’s.
Brad was on antidepressants and suffered from asthma. Immediately Mark allegedly began abusing him, making fun of his depression.
“He made comments like: 'I don't know how your parents can love you, you're a fat useless piece of shit. You're done here, you bastard. Get the fuck out. I dare you to put EB as a reference.'”
According to Randall and his colleague Kurt, Mark DiStefano had been verbally abusing certain staff members with homophobic slurs for months, calling Randall and a couple of other employees “faggots”. Randall claims Mark would spread rumours that Randall and Kurt were dating.
During a sales training meeting Mark introduced staff members to a new system of customer service called the ‘WOW factor’. Fairly standard stuff -- make the customer feel welcome, go above and beyond, etc.
Mark’s alleged description of the ‘WOW factor’: ‘give the customers the best blowjob of their life’. And if they still weren’t happy? ‘Bend over the counter and let them fuck you in the ass’.
“EB Games goes above and beyond to provide our employees with a safe working environment and we have zero tolerance on bullying and harassment. This includes contracting an external HR consultancy firm and an independent third-party who operate an Integrity Hotline.”
That’s part of the official statement EB Games sent us when we contacted them for the purposes of this story.
The Integrity Hotline: A number of people we spoke to made reference to it. According to them, it was something of a running joke.
“If someone says something inappropriate in the store, or lobs something at your head, everyone chants ‘oh, I’m dobbing you into the integrity hotline’,” says Haylee.
The Integrity Hotline is a number EB employees can dial to report any issues they are having at work. It promises anonymity but, according to one head office staff member, that anonymity was rarely upheld. Usually complaints filtered down through management back to staff members involved in any incident, if they filtered down at all.
After being allegedly verbally abused by Mark DiStefano, Randall’s friend Brad made an official complaint to the integrity hotline, but there was absolutely no follow-up, according to both Randall and Brad. An EB Games spokesperson claimed they had no record of the complaint. According to both Brad and Randall, that simply isn’t true.
Everyone we spoke to highlighted how lost and powerless EB employees -- particularly casual employees -- felt in situations where they felt abused or exploited. If you had an issue there were two options: call the integrity hotline or contact your line manager. One was a running joke, the other involved a massive amount of risk.
“The unspoken understanding,” explains Amy Mason, “is complainers don't get hours.”
Amy Mason was an Assistant Manager at EB Games. According to her, and many others, EB Games as a company would be unsustainable without the incredible amount of unpaid hours worked by both store managers and casuals.
“As an Assistant Manager, I was working 60-hour weeks and getting paid $39,000 a year, and I’m not even kidding,” she says.
The main issue according to Amy: Managers were given payroll to manage the store, essentially a budget for casual hours. Without exception, says Amy, that budget wasn’t close to the amount required to run the store successfully.
“I had to work every public holiday pretty much, and would be given ‘days in lieu’ that I was never able to take because there was no payroll to get a casual to cover me,” says Amy.
Managers and Assistant Managers claim they run themselves into the ground. Casuals said they were expected to work extra hours for free, to embody the “EB ethos”. Expected to turn up early to open the store without pay. Expected to close the store without pay. According to Randall, it would often take an extra two hours to do the work he was required to do in a three hour shift, but his store only had budget for one casual. When he complained about this to management he was told to “organise his time better”.
Midnight launches. Everyone we spoke to claimed they had worked midnight launches without pay. The unspoken assumption: if you didn’t your hours would be cut.
Allegedly, sick days were also an issue.
“I didn’t have sick days,” claims Amy. “I worked through many a chest infection and even pneumonia."
At one point, Amy had to get her wisdom teeth removed, a procedure that required she take a day off.
“I was told I could have it as a day in lieu for a public holiday I worked, but not sick leave.”
We approached EB Games for comment regarding unpaid hours.
“EB Games complies with all Fair Work Australia’s rules and regulations,” read a statement sent in reply.
“With regards to unpaid overtime, all casuals are paid for the hours they work including midnight launches. If casuals are working for “free” this is not something that is being asked of them by the company.”
Amy admits she was never asked by upper management to force staff members to work for free, but believes that a “very well thought out system” forces managers to take advantage of casual workers.
“It works,” says Amy, “because we got resumes handed in daily. The threat is always there: you are so replaceable. Why else would people work for free? What other reason is there?”
EB’s lack of an internal HR department, believes Amy, is a major issue, making it extremely difficult to register any kind of complaint regarding inappropriate work hours. EB Games has almost 400 stores, employing an estimated 2000 employees, but has no dedicated internal HR department. According to experts in the field, that isn’t necessarily strange, but it's far from best practice. In a statement EB Games informed Kotaku that all HR roles were “covered” in the business, but no-one we spoke to was provided with a point of contact for HR related problems.
Amy believes she racked up “hundreds of hours” of unpaid work. Randall remembers working entire seven hour shifts without pay, setting up for stock takes or sales. Others we spoke to for the purposes of this story said the precise same thing. All had worked for free at some point.
Randall and four other colleagues have placed an official complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission. All five made statutory declarations regarding their treatment at the hands of Mark DiStefano.
“I have worked for Mark for a long time,” read one statement, “and can attest to his appalling and disgusting way he conducts himself.” [sic]
Another statement: “Mark on numerous occasions called me an asshole and a cunt.”
A third statement: “I suffer from extreme depression and anxiety because of events that occurred at EB.”
On Friday, after a number of delays, EB Games finally responded to the allegations. EB claims to have undertaken a three week internal investigation. They deny all charges corroborated by five different EB employees in separate statements. In the words of EB Games' mediator: "[t]here has not been unlawful discrimination, harassment or victimisation."
Mark DiStefano denies having ever verbally abused Randall or the four other employees. EB Games denies any and all liability.
Recently Randall was informed that he was officially banned from all EB Games stores. He thought it might be a joke. He called up the EB customer service hotline to check.
Later he got a callback. Yes, the operator confirmed, Randall had been banned from all EB stores. Nationwide. Randall asked why? The operator claimed she didn’t need to provide a reason. Determined, Randall asked to speak to a manager. The manager was far more polite and happy to confirm that Randall had been banned.
On the advice of Mark DiStefano.
If you suffer from depression and want to talk to someone, you can call beyondblue on 1300 224 636, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or chat to someone online.