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Profits have taken a tumble at fashion retailer Ted Baker after staff made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against founder Ray Kelvin, who has now taken a voluntary leave of absence while investigations take place.

 

The news follows hard on the heels of allegations of harassment against Topshop boss Sir Philip Green, with employees claiming he groped, threatened and humiliated them.

 

Alongside, dozens of partners have been forced out of the Big Four accountancy firms for behaviour that has included bullying and sexual harassment, according to figures recently released by the firms, after the chief executive of Deloitte spoke out. David Sproul revealed that 20 partners had been fired from Deloitte over a four-year period, saying that rather than hide away from the negative aspect of such figures, he wanted to be transparent and demonstrate commitment to a fair and inclusive working environment.

 

This sort of open attitude is increasingly important for all organisations. Share prices rely on companies creating the right culture and abuse of privilege or power will no longer stay out of sight, as staff, quite rightly, are finding ways to get their voices heard.  But it’s not just about big business, as corporate reputation can take a hit whatever your size, so you need to ensure you are facing up to any such issues, improving the workplace culture where necessary, to safeguard employees.

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Employees are protected in the workplace by the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful for an employer to allow any job applicant or employee to be subject to any harassment, whether of a sexual nature, or other intimidating behaviour.   It is the employer who is responsible for preventing such behaviour, as they are liable for any harassment suffered by their employees in the workplace.

 

Every business should have a clear policy, in writing and shared with both management and staff, with a clear pathway and a safe environment for handling any complaints. Too often it’s a more senior member of staff who is doing the harassing, and that can lead to worries about what will happen if a report is made. Allegations made by staff in the Ted Baker case set out that their concerns were ignored or discounted by the HR department.

 

It’s important that businesses are sensitive to these issues and tackle any conduct which may be seen as inappropriate head on. Making inappropriate physical contact, rude jokes, innuendo, or gender-based comments are likely to be found offensive or humiliating, and management need to demonstrate a zero tolerance to such behaviour, however large or small the company.

 

The Government are releasing a new ‘Code of Practice’ to tackle sexual harassment at work so that employers can understand their responsibilities and protect their staff accordingly. As yet this has not been published but it is advised that business owners and HR departments keep an ear to the ground for when these guidance notes will be available.

 

For guidance on your policies and procedures or to speak to an expert regarding a harrasment case, please call Karen Bristow, Head of the Employment Team on 01256 844888 or email karen.bristow@lambbrooks.com

 

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.