According to a new report, over a dozen former staffers of Rep. Pramila Jayapal have accused her of creating a “toxic and abusive” workplace, calling her actions “contrary to the public expectations she has set for others.”
In a scathing report by BuzzFeed News, Jayapal, who has been a vocal proponent of progressive policies for workers across the country such as raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, was accused of running a “dysfunctional and volatile” workplace.
The report, which came after a three-month investigation by the outlet, cited 14 former employees who spoke anonymously out of fear of retaliation.
“I’ve worked in bad environments before, and I have worked in some awful environments before for some awful people. I’ve been colleagues with some awful people,” one former staffer said. “I have never worked in a place that has made me so miserable and so not excited for public service as Pramila Jayapal’s office.”
Former employees claimed Jayapal berated them in front of others, changed expectations frequently, and demanded long hours. Since her inauguration, Jayapal’s office has had one of the highest staff turnover rates in the House, according to the report. Only five of the 16 members of her personal staff have been with her for more than two years, and nine have been with her for less than a year.
“It’s not sustainable to be able to stay for too long,” one former staffer said.
Another former staff member called Jayapal a “effective public advocate for workers,” but added, “she just doesn’t recognize that the staff are also humans.”
During a House Budget Committee hearing in 2019, the Washington progressive was accused of yelling at a staffer, causing the employee to cry. To BuzzFeed News, Jayapal’s office said, “The anecdote is in no way representative of what it is like to work for someone who has spent decades being a champion of the rights of all workers.”
According to multiple sources, Jayapal once blamed a staffer for her own weight gain, claiming she didn’t have enough gym time on her schedule.
Many of the Democrats’ staffers cited in the report allegedly needed therapy while working for them, citing an unbalanced work-life schedule.
One employee described the workplace as “so toxic and abusive” that she felt “the only way I could function both professionally and personally was to seek therapy and counseling.” Later, that staffer stated that “leaving was the only option.”
Long hours, specifically working 12+ hour days without significant breaks, allegedly had an impact on the employees’ personal lives. While those hours are common in the nation’s capital, one former staffer compared their pay to the number of hours they worked.
“If you were to divide it into an hourly wage, it would probably be like $12 to $15 an hour,” the staffer said. “Which is not ideal when considering, like, we are advocating for a $15 minimum wage.”
Some of the former staffers quoted in the report pointed out that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-(D-NY) Cortez’s office pays a starting salary of $52,000, implying that the Hill can afford to pay junior staff appropriately.
The lowest-paid position in Jayapal’s office, according to the report, is that of a staff assistant. According to a spokesperson for the Democrat’s office, the current staff assistant is paid $42,500 per year. The median salary for the position is $38,500, according to Legistorm.
Jayapal’s office has also been accused of firing two employees without pay in November 2020, then inviting one of them to apply for a job that combined the two positions.