THE offices of Energy Watch must at times have resembled a departure lounge with disgruntled employees either being shown the door or finding their own way out, at a company where the boss said and did what he wanted.
From offices across the road from the Spearmint Rhino nightclub on Melbourne's King Street, staff would take calls from consumers looking for cheaper electricity and gas prices.
Former employees said it was like working for a "cowboy outfit" where Ben Polis was in the saddle and would regularly buck off his workers. A one-time promotional model for the company said women were made to feel especially uncomfortable by Mr Polis.
"He would say that all women were prostitutes, especially promotional models, because everything they did was for money," she said. "It goes without saying that he was sexist."
She also claimed she was still owed superannuation payments.
Another worker told how he was told to target older people as customers and to encourage them to change their provider by offering free light bulbs which never existed. "When they rang up asking where they were, we were told to fob them off. We never even had them," he said.
The worker, who also said he was owed thousands of dollars in superannuation, said that in one campaign they had been encouraged to try to get farmers' wives to switch providers.
"At one time he said, 'Get the wives on the phone, because they are dumb as dogshit.'
"We also got a lot of calls from the Ombudsman and [Mr Polis] told us to say he was not there."
A spokesperson for the Australian Services Union confirmed it was working with members "to address unpaid entitlements".
Ongoing harassment problems were raised by a workplace consultant from the Victorian Employers' Chamber of Commerce and Industry in an email in February. The consultant wrote to Luke Zombor, who set up Energy Watch with Mr Polis in 2009, and yesterday emerged as the new chief executive.
The consultant recommended Energy Watch settle outstanding wages or superannuation claims as soon as possible to avoid fines. "Is there any way of cleaning up/filing away any evidence laying around in relation to any drug/sexual harassment/other type past complaints. Please ensure these are resolved and closed fully," the consultant wrote.
"It appears employees have had or do have their hands on certain information in relation to the above examples which may be detrimental to the reputation of EW [Energy Watch] and its sponsoring."
Energy Watch yesterday lost its sponsoring deals after Mr Polis' behaviour reached the public arena.
Mr Polis is no stranger to confrontation and wrote a book about how he was diagnosed with ADD/ADHD at age 12 and had served more than 3000 hours in detention while driving his family into counselling.
In an online biography promoting his speaking tours, Mr Polis is described as "the kid who was always meant to fail".