The cost of getting too close for comfort


19 December 2018

By Alexandra Dean

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.

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 everyone is clear what is acceptable nowadays.  Making 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.

Whether you are an employer or employee and are in need of employment law advice please contact Alexandra Dean on 01245 228141 or   

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.