Ted Baker CEO takes leave after "forced hugging" claims by workers

Women still face sexual harassment at work

U.K. fashion designer and retailer Ted Baker on Friday said founder and CEO Ray Kelvin is stepping aside after "further serious allegations" about his behavior. The executive's departure comes four days after the company said it would investigate complaints of "forced hugging" by its embattled leader.

"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

The company's board appointed Chief Operating Officer Lindsay Page as acting CEO while Kelvin is on leave, it said.

On Monday, Ted Baker vowed to investigate worker complaints about Kelvin's conduct. 

The allegations came to light as more than 2,500 signed an online petition calling for an end to "forced 'hugging' by the CEO," calling it "part of a culture that leaves harassment unchallenged."

In addition to customers, the petition includes the signatures of several hundred former and current Ted Baker employees, according to British media reports.

One former junior employee, who left the company earlier this year, described being hugged by Kelvin several times, according to The Guardian. The ex-worker also describes an incident in which the CEO rubbed employees' shoulders in front of a group of visitors to Ted Baker's head office. 

The former employee told the newspaper they were "not allowed to" pull away: "He holds you in, he's a big guy and it was my first job. I didn't know where to fight my battles."

The company said it would look into the allegations and follow with an "appropriate" response.

"Ray, and the company's leadership, have always prided themselves on Ted Baker being a great employer and business to work with," it said Monday in a statement. "Accordingly, they and the board take these concerns very seriously and the Board has directed a thorough and urgent independent external investigation is carried out into these matters."

Kelvin is the second British fashion titan to face harassment claims in recent months. Philip Green, the billionaire owner of fashion chain Topshop and other brands, has denied sexual harassment allegations made against him in October.