Unwelcome Hugging Allegations Target U.K. Luxury Fashion Retailer

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek December 10, 2018
Unwelcome Hugging Allegations Target U.K. Luxury Fashion Retailer
​Women are coming forward with allegations of unprofessional behavior at U.K. luxury fashion retailer Ted Baker, decrying the practice of "unwelcome hugging." An independent investigation is being conducted into harassment complaints against founder and CEO Ray Kelvin and another senior executive.

Thousands of people signed a petition demanding an end to forced hugging and asking the company to set up an independent, external mechanism to report harassment, claiming "HR has done nothing with the reports of harassment to date."

The company's stock fell 13 percent when news of the allegations first broke in early December. It has said it is taking the allegations "very seriously," wants employees to feel valued and respected, and appointed a law firm to conduct an investigation.

"This is a cautionary tale for employers who look the other way when employees engage in conduct that makes other employees uncomfortable," said Aaron Goldstein, a labor and employment partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney. 

Unwanted hugging in the workplace can constitute sexual harassment, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2017.

"Companies cannot afford to look the other way when employees engage in inappropriate workplace behavior," Goldstein told SHRM Online, "even when that behavior is as simple as an unwanted hug."

SHRM Online collected the following articles and resources from its archives and other media outlets on workplace sexual harassment. 

Exclusive: Second Executive at U.K. Fashion Chain Ted Baker Accused of Unwelcome Hugging 

New allegations against a long-serving senior executive add to the allegations swirling around Ted Baker CEO and founder Ray Kelvin. Three women have come forward with fresh claims about the unprofessional culture at the retail giant. The new claims include: 

  • Unwelcome hugging by another senior executive.
  • Evidence the company installed a floor sticker with the words "hug here" beside Kelvin's desk. 
Hugs would be lingering and in front of other bosses in the open-plan office. The CEO apparently hugged many people—men and women—including shareholders, investors, suppliers, partners, customers and colleagues. One woman said Kelvin gave lingering hugs and once made staffers slow dance with him.

[SHRM members-only tools and samples: Anti-harassment Policy and Complaint Procedure (includes Dating/Consensual Relationship Policy Provision)]   

Ted Baker Staff Demand End to 'Forced Hugging' at Work 

More than 2,000 members of staff and customers have called on the CEO to alter his behavior, including "inappropriate touching" that they say is "part of a culture that leaves harassment unchallenged."

The call was in the form of an open letter to the company's board of directors on the online platform Organise, which runs workplace-specific campaigns. 

Ted Baker Slumps as U.K. Fashion Firm Pledges Harassment Probe 

Shares of British fashion designer and retailer Ted Baker Plc slumped as much as 15 percent Monday as the company said it was investigating an employee petition demanding that Kelvin stop hugging them.

It said in a statement that it appointed a committee of nonexecutive directors to look into allegations of a "culture of harassment." The claims are "entirely at odds" with Ted Baker's values and those of Kelvin, the retailer said in a separate e-mailed comment, confirming that it had "very recently" been made aware of the petition.

The comments followed a report in the Sunday Times of London on the employee petition. The CEO also is accused of making sexual innuendos, stroking people's necks and other forms of verbal or physical harassment, the newspaper said. 

Study: Groping, Touching and Sexual Assault 'Part of Culture' of British Workplaces  

A highly critical assessment of sexual harassment in the workplace found that groping, touching and sexual assault are part of the culture of British industry.
"Currently, there is little incentive for employers and regulators to take robust action to tackle and prevent unwanted sexual behaviors in the workplace," members of Parliament said in the report.

Don't Look! Reports of Netflix's 'No Staring' Rule Raise Harassment Questions 

Netflix employees reportedly are forbidden to look at each other for longer than five seconds under a strict new antiharassment policy the online streaming service has rolled out, according to news reports. 
Netflix did not confirm whether the no-staring rule is part of its anti-harassment policy or otherwise respond to SHRM Online's request for more information. But whether rules against staring and other behavior exist, the story raises the question of antiharassment policies and training in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
(SHRM Online)   

One Year After #MeToo and 'Weinstein Effect': What's Changed? 

Nearly one-third of 1,034 executives said they have changed their behaviors to a moderate, great or very great extent to avoid behavior that could be perceived as sexual harassment, according to new research the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) released Oct. 14. About one-fourth of 1,022 managers said they have changed their behaviors.
(SHRM Online)   

Workplace Harassment 

The fight to end bullying and sexual harassment has changed the work environment. To help HR foster workplace cultures that do not tolerate harassment, SHRM created this resource center with news, insights, sample policies, training and more.
(SHRM Online)


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