Facing a sexual misconduct allegation at work: the importance of your first account
One can only imagine what it was like for the HR department at Ted Baker last week, where the employee petition against a ‘forced hugs policy’ has focused much attention on the company’s culture.
The matter is currently the subject of a 'thorough and urgent independent external investigation' according to a company press statement released on 3 December. However, what is being said about the behaviour of the CEO and the effectiveness or otherwise of the firm's whistleblowing and anti-harassment procedures, not to mention the HR team’s own role in allegedly not acting on complaints, all point to an uncomfortable set of behaviours.
Quite whether this develops into an existential crisis for the company, it is too early to tell. But the furore created by the story does mark another salutary warning, if one were needed, that things will never be the same for corporate culture post #MeToo.
The Ted Baker scenario is perhaps an unusual and (if the allegations prove to be true) extreme example of what can go wrong. But it does offer some important lessons to other employers as they seek to update their approach and protect themselves from crisis in the post-#MeToo era.
Employees have always had a right to be valued and respected at work, and to be in an organisation free from sexual harassment. But they've never been more aware of this right than now. We have seen an exponential rise in the number of harassment-related allegations in recent months. The Ted Baker story is but the latest example.
Company leadership teams, boards, HR departments and managers need to take note. Policies and procedures are all very well (many or even most companies and organisations have had these for years), but the prevailing culture is key. There has to be a clear expectation of what is ok and what is not ok in terms of behaviour at all levels. There must be an understanding of what falls the wrong side of the line. And the line is not necessarily where it used to be.
First published in HR Magazine, December 2018.
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