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External review following online allegations lead to recommendations.

A number of employees laid bare the internal behaviour at the fashion retailer in late 2018 when they started an online petition accusing the founder of Ted Baker of inappropriate behaviour, including forcing female members of staff to take part in workplace hugs. At the time, the founder was the most senior person at the organisation, prompting concerns regarding the ability of employees to make complaints which could be properly reviewed and actioned.

An impartial investigation by a law firm has reviewed the organisation’s internal policies, procedures and processes for dealing with grievances raised by their employees. As well as reviewing HR policies to ensure these are in line with best practice, the organisation will now introduce a confidential reporting line for whistleblowing matters, as well as refresh training for all employees on acceptable workplace conduct, HR policies and procedures. There is also a further commitment to consider employee matters at board level and a non-executive director is being allocated responsibility for this. Going forwards, a staff survey will be carried out later on in 2019 to ensure the culture of the organisation is going in the right direction.

The scandal surrounding hugs raised the concerning issue of employee confidence in raising, and following through, concerns of harassment or unacceptable behaviour when the alleged perpetrator is more senior or is responsible for leadership. This doesn’t have to go as far as being the most senior person in the organisation, as where an employee’s own line manager is the individual undertaking this conduct then it can be difficult for an employee to know where to turn to.

Organisations can follow the lead of Ted Baker by introducing a confidential reporting process to encourage reports of concerning behaviour to be raised in every instance which, in turn, allows the organisation to take stringent action against this. Internal policies on grievances or anti-harassment and bullying can also be reviewed and updated to ensure there are alternative parties to raise concerns to. Including the employee’s line manager and a designated person in the HR department allows for incidents where the line manager is involved or the employee feels more confident with speaking to an impartial member of HR.

Canvassing the views of employees on serious issues such as the internal culture of an organisation, whether they have witnessed or suffered harassing or unacceptable behaviour, and whether they feel able to report this through internal systems can be useful to uncover any serious issues within an organisation. Ted Baker are planning on carrying out staff surveys in the future and a practical use of these can help as part of an internal review, although employees are likely to need encouragement to answer these honestly and any issues raised through the surveys should not be ignored or the value will be lost.

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