Hug-gate! Ted Baker allegations put the squeeze on sexual harassment in the workplace

A WARM greeting – or inappropriate behaviour? It’s a question that has been thrust into the employment law spotlight after staff at a leading High Street fashion brand accused their boss of instigating a culture of “forced hugging”.

The allegations made against 62-year-old Ray Kelvin, founder and Chief Executive of Ted Baker sound another warning bell to employers about what constitutes sexual harassment at work

It has effectively left the company between a hug and a hard place as thousands of people signed an online workplace petition calling for the alleged practice to be stamped out, along with other inappropriate comments and behaviour.

The alert is particularly timely as companies head into the height of the Christmas office party season, where traditionally many claims of inappropriate behaviour tend to surface.

But what can employers do to protect their staff from such behaviour – dubbed Hug-gate – and themselves from a legal hangover.

Sexual harassment in the workplace can give rise to complaints and claims made by employees if they believe they have experienced unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which they say has violated their dignity; made them feel uncomfortable or humiliated; and created an environment which is offensive or hostile.

It can occur in a number of ways and is dependent upon the individual and their circumstances not generally, ie one person may react differently to another to a “hug” or a question about their appearance.

All employers have a duty to their employees to create a safe environment at work and have in place sufficient policies/procedures for what is deemed acceptable or not; how the company will deal with any complaints/concerns; and ensuring that an employee should not feel unable to raise their concerns with the appropriate person.

Meanwhile, as the probe at Ted Baker continues, a spokesman stressed hugs are “part of Ted Baker’s culture, but are absolutely not insisted upon”.
He added Mr Kelvin greeted many people with a hug, “be it a shareholder, investor, supplier, partner, customer or colleague”.

Should you have any questions or concerns regarding conduct and discrimination, or any other employment law-related issues, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Employment Law team here at Milners on 0113 245 0852 or hello@milnerslaw

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