“I started Organise because I didn’t see anywhere for people who spot problems at work to proactively fix them,” says Nat Whalley, Executive Director of Organise, the site which launched the petition against “forced hugs” and “ear kissing” at Ted Baker.
This has since resulted in founder Ray Kelvin taking a leave of absence, and the Board appointing a law firm to carry out an investigation into 100 reports (so far) of alleged harassment. At the time of writing, shares in Ted Baker are down 19% since news of the allegations broke.
As investigators try to get to the bottom of what has been happening at Ted Baker, they need to pay just as much attention to why this wasn’t dealt with properly internally, making staff feel that they had no option but to organise themselves externally with such spectacular effect.
Ted Baker no doubt has anti-harassment policies, grievance procedures, whistle-blowing procedures and an HR team, so how did this alleged inappropriate, but presumably conspicuous hugging seemingly go unnoticed and unchallenged?
Anecdotally, one of the complainants has told the media that she felt unable to raise the matter with HR because she expected to be told: ‘That’s just Ray’, and when she did raise it during her exit interview this is exactly what she was told.
In an out of touch statement to the press Ted Baker said hugs are ‘part of Ted Baker’s culture but are absolutely not insisted upon.’ Whether the Board didn’t know how staff felt about this culture (or perhaps the cult of Ray Kelvin is more apt), or were complicit in turning a blind eye, remains to be seen.
Sadly this sense of disempowerment is widespread in many businesses. Yet bad behaviour must be held to account, no matter where it comes from and there are things which you can do about it.
Sweat the small stuff:
If someone says or does something you are uncomfortable with or offended by, call it out. You are more likely to be able to nip behaviour in the bud early on, and if everyone is encouraged to do this then issues can be raised in a way that is not hugely sensitive and engages people in dialogue rather than dispute. Raising concerns contemporaneously also avoids issues of credibility and causation for employees further down the line where these complaints, however legitimate, often only come to light in the context of disciplinary or redundancy processes.
Use the company’s internal policies and procedures:
(anti-harassment, equal opportunities and grievance procedures and, if there are genuine concerns for others, whistle-blowing policies). You have the legal right to complain in good faith without redress.
Help HR join the dots:
If you know that others have also suffered poor treatment, speak to those individuals, ask them to speak to HR. HR should know where there have been several incidents with the same person. If you come up against resistance in the face of discrimination, although there is no longer a statutory questionnaire mechanism, there is nothing to stop you submitting questions to try to find out if there have been other similar complaints.
Campaign internally for change:
Campaigners are pushing for better internal preventative practice to stop sexual harassment, legislated for if necessary, but in the absence of that, push for it. HR should be pro-actively monitoring their organisation and stepping in when things are going wrong, but unfortunately this does not always happen. We have witnessed the power of the petition. Employee surveys, forums, women’s groups etc. can also be a vehicle for change.
Susie Al-Qassab is a partner in the employment law team at London solicitors, Hodge Jones & Allen