On Monday the 4th March 2019, the founder and Chief Executive of fashion brand Ted Baker, Ray Kelvin, resigned following allegations that he had behaved inappropriately towards his employees, including ‘forced hugging’.
Complaints from employees claim Ray Kelvin would give unwanted hugs, shoulder massages and kisses on the back of their ears. Ray Kelvin had been on voluntary leave of absence since December last year following the misconduct allegations from his employees.
The allegations which Mr Kelvin denies, are being investigated by the company.
But what is considered harassment?
Harassment is unwanted behaviour that offends you or if it creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating environment. It is both a civil and a criminal offence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
Harassment becomes unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 if it is because of, or connected to a protected characteristic: Age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partner status, race, pregnancy or maternity, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.
Even a single incident can amount to harassment! Examples include displaying posters that may be offensive to a particular group or asking a woman if it is ‘that time of the month’.
Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour that makes you feel distressed or offended and is of a sexual nature. This may involve a wide range of actions, such as touching, inappropriate jokes, or sending emails of a suggestive or sexual nature.
If you experience this kind of behaviour at work, your employer could also can be liable for harassment, as well as the individual. This is because the employer is responsible for anything done by an employee in the course of their employment, even if the employer did now know! There is a defense for employers if they took all reasonable steps to prevent employees from behaving in this manner.
Is hugging really acceptable in the workplace? Is it considered degrading or offensive?
There is no definitive answer!
But undoubtedly, the Judge would consider the victim’s perception and if it was reasonable for the hugging to make the individual feel violated or offended.
If you would like more information on harassment in the workplace, or if you would like to speak to a professional, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our specialist Employment Team.
Richard Lozano; Employment Solicitor | 01302 341414 | email@example.com