Update: Ted Baker's CEO and founder Ray Kelvin has said he is taking a "temporary leave of absence" following allegations of harassment.
Kelvin's announcement comes after an anonymous staff member created a petition to end "forced hugging" by the 62-year-old executive in the workplace.
The petition, which has more than 2,500 signatures, described the practice as "part of a culture [at the company] that leaves harassment unchallenged".
"I’ve seen the CEO ask young female members of staff to sit on his knee, cuddle him, or let him massage their ears. I went to HR with a complaint and was told 'that’s just what Ray’s like'," the petition, which made headline news earlier this week, reads.
On Friday evening, the fashion brand said its committee and board have been informed of "further serious allegations" against Kelvin.
The company also said it has appointed a law firm to conduct an independent external investigation into the allegations, the BBC reports.
“Ray Kelvin has agreed, for the benefit of the business and the people who work in it, that he will take a voluntary leave of absence from his role with the company while these allegations are investigated," Ted Baker said in a statement yesterday.
Just a day earlier, on Thursday, the company had said that Kelvin would be continuing in his CEO role while matters were under investigation.
Following the U-turn, Kelvin said in a statement on Friday: "Ted Baker has been my life and soul for 30 years. I love this company and I care deeply for all my colleagues. It's for that reason that I have decided to take a temporary leave of absence."
"Ted Baker means everything to me and I can’t bear to see it harmed in any way," he added.
Ted Baker's chief operating officer Lindsay Page has been named acting chief executive during Kelvin's leave of absence.
The company also said on Friday that it will not be making any further comments about the nature of the allegations against Kelvin while they remain under investigation.
This piece was originally published on December 3, 2018 at 12pm.
Ted Baker staff have launched a petition to end "forced hugging" by its 62-year-old CEO and founder Ray Kelvin, which they describe as "part of a culture that leaves harassment unchallenged".
The petition, created by an anonymous member of staff on workplace website Organize, also accuses Kelvin of other inappropriate behaviour towards young women, including touching and objectifying remarks. The petition has attracted more than 2,400 signatures already. Ted Baker is investigating the claims.
"I’ve seen the CEO ask young female members of staff to sit on his knee, cuddle him, or let him massage their ears. I went to HR with a complaint and was told 'that’s just what Ray’s like'," the petition reads. It also accuses Kelvin of "regularly [making] sexual innuendos at staff," stroking their necks, taking off his shirt and talking about his sex life.
"So many people have left the business due to harassment, whether that be verbal, physical or sexual," it says, adding that the current system of reporting it to the company's HR is "hopelessly ineffective" as "they don't act on the reports". It's now calling on other staff and Ted Baker customers to share their own experiences.
Several anonymous staff also shared their experiences on BBC Radio 4's Today program this morning. "He had a policy of hugging everyone, rather than a handshake," said one. "Nothing wrong with that but these hugs were extremely physically imposing as well as awkwardly long, often conducted publicly in front of the whole office."
The employees added that while they didn't have a problem with the hugging in itself, the behaviour that tended to accompany it made them feel uncomfortable: "unwanted personal comments, kisses on the cheek [and] neck stroking all used to happen after, particularly with women."
They went on to describe Kelvin's habit of massaging employees. One one occasion, he allegedly did so while showing a group of visitors around the office, "commenting loudly" on the tightness of the employee's muscles. "Although not illegal, obviously, it was deeply embarrassing," one said.
Another staff member claimed they'd been "warned by some of the senior staff that Kelvin was a character and could be inappropriate, and just to go along with it". They said they'd noticed that he would "go in for a hug regardless of any apparent desire from those he was hugging", and that hugs would last between 10 and 40 seconds, and would often involve him whispering, kissing necks or massaging people's ears. "This would happen every day if he was in a good mood," they added.
In response, the company said it had launched an investigation, and that while hugs are part of the company's culture, they are "absolutely not insisted upon". "While the claims made are entirely at odds with the values of our business and those of our CEO, we take them very seriously."
It added: "Ray greets many people he meets with a hug – be it a shareholder, investor, supplier, partner, customer or colleague. Hugs have become part of Ted Baker’s culture, but are absolutely not insisted upon."
To combat the lack of clarity over what constitutes acceptable workplace behaviour, Sandra Paul, defence litigator and partner at law firm Kingsley Napley, said companies need clear policies that are clearly communicated, so that "everybody has a common understanding about what the expectations are – what's okay and what's not," she told Radio 4's Today, adding that people should "have a right to be safe in their work environment".
Paul said that the rules should apply to staff throughout the organization, regardless of their standing, as employees often feel pressured not to make allegations against company founders and/or CEOs, particularly dominant individuals.