AHS employee complaint over Landmark seminars sparks review

Public Interest Commissioner will look into complaint over controversial Landmark Education training

CBC News/October 15, 2014

By Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell

Alberta’s Public Interest Commissioner is reviewing a complaint against Alberta Health Services related to a controversial American personal development training company, CBC News has learned.

Ted Miles, the office’s director, said an Alberta Health Services (AHS) employee, on Sept. 18, alleged that paying for 40 AHS staff to take personal development training provided by the Landmark Education Corp. represented “gross mismanagement of funds.” The allegation has not been proven.

Miles said the details of the complaint are “remarkably similar” to the information contained in a CBC News story published Wednesday. It revealed that AHS allowed Landmark to operate within its Information Technology department for more than a year despite several serious complaints from AHS employees.

Landmark has been widely criticized for employing high-pressure recruitment tactics, intense psychological methods, and a conformist ideology.

Internal AHS documents, obtained by CBC News through freedom of information, detail several complaints to human resources from employees who felt pressured, even harassed, to attend Landmark seminars as well as to reveal personal details of their lives at training seminars and staff meetings.

Despite this, the documents appear to show AHS did little to investigate the complaints or the company and instead facilitated Landmark’s operations within the department.

The documents show AHS paid nearly $650 each for as many as 50 of its IT “executives and directors” to attend Landmark seminars, some even after HR staff identified serious potential problems.

“This could be seen as a form of harassment and a violation of their privacy,” an HR advisor wrote. “Employees may feel afraid to refuse to do this in fear of being ostracized, disciplined or even terminated.”

Miles said AHS told the commissioner earlier this month it had already investigated complaints related to Landmark. But Miles said they will review the AHS investigation to see if the concerns of the whistleblower have been addressed.

“We’re now waiting for them to formally advise us what they intend to do,” he said, adding that he will be asking AHS to provide him with the same documents provided to CBC News.

Miles said the commissioner is also considering whether an investigation is warranted into the health and safety of individuals within AHS who may have been affected in any way by Landmark training or the pressure to take that training.  

Alberta Health Services apologizes

In a statement issued to CBC News Wednesday, AHS communications vice-president Colleen Turner acknowledged AHS should never have allowed a situation to develop in which employees felt pressured to attend Landmark seminars.

“This should never have happened,” Turner said. “It was unacceptable, and we apologize to any staff members who felt pressured in any way into participating in this kind of training.

“Under no circumstances should our staff ever feel pressured into participating in this kind of training or course,” Turner said. “And, it is completely inappropriate for staff to pressure others.”

Turner said after AHS received complaints about Landmark, it took them seriously and investigated, but their own internal documents appear to contradict that statement.

Turner also said the individuals who were involved in the facilitation of this particular staff training are no longer with AHS.

The internal AHS documents show the Landmark program was brought into the IT department by contractor Kevin Brown, who subsequently became an IT manager. Brown declined an interview but he confirmed he left AHS in April 2012.

The documents show Brown was allowed to use internal AHS email to recruit for Landmark, and AHS office space to hold free introductory sessions, at which employees were encouraged to attend Landmark Forum seminars which cost nearly $650.

Landmark spokeswoman Deb Beroset told CBC News no one who attends their training seminars is pressured to disclose personal details.

Beroset also said the company is endorsed by top American psychologists, and she said it has provided training at thousands of corporations around the world, including Reebok and Apple.

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