What do you do if you manage a company that has just ousted its founder following a string of sexual harassment allegations?
The answer is to ban workplace romances – at least according to the fashion chain American Apparel.
The retailer has barred managers from relationships with “subordinates”, while any romantic entanglement between staff “where one person may have perceived or actual influence over the other’s terms of employment must be disclosed by the participants to the Human Resources Department”, according to the group’s new code of conduct. “A ‘romantic relationship’ includes both casual dating and committed relationships,” the rule book adds.
The seemingly draconian move follows the departure of the fashion group’s founder, Dov Charney, who was sacked as chief executive last month for alleged misconduct. The board had suspended him six months earlier following claims he sexually harassed colleagues and improperly bought travel for family members with company funds. Charney maintains the allegations against him are “baseless”.
The image of the retailer, which became famous for its Made in America T-shirts and Y-fronts but was also accused of using adverts that verged on the pornographic, had been damaged by a series of lawsuits alleging Charney had inappropriate sexual contact with female employees. The shares fell until the board moved against Charney, who has said the sexual relationships he had with staff were consensual. The company said a special committee of its board decided “it would not be appropriate for Mr Charney to be reinstated as CEO or an officer or employee” based on the results of an internal investigation. The board then appointed Paula Schneider as the group’s first female chief executive.
Under Schneider’s regime, any failure to report a relationship that no longer conforms to company policy is a disciplinary matter. “Employees who fail to report a personal and/or romantic relationship as required by this policy will be subject to discipline. While confidentiality cannot be guaranteed, Human Resources will handle such disclosures in a discreet manner,” the code states.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010