Workers employed at the store, situated in Milan, were instructed by their manager to undertake certain controversial activities as disciplinary punishment for making mistakes, which, when discovered, were quickly ceased.
So what did the employees have to do?
If an employee failed to greet a customer in the prescribed manner, they were allegedly told to drop and do 10 push ups. That was only the male employees – should a female employee break the rules, she would reportedly be ordered to do 10 squats.
What was claimed to have been (an obviously misguided) team building exercise could potentially have had serious ramifications, and it is no surprise that a spokesperson from Abercrombie & Fitch attempted to distance the company from the behaviour of the manager in question.
Some employees may have been inclined to join in with the ‘fun’, accept the punishment and make sure they didn’t make the same mistake again.
Some employees, though, may have taken offence at being expected to perform in such a way, merely as a disciplinary offence, and felt humiliated by the military style boot camp exercises. Employers tread dangerously when they take any action that could be considered to constitute ‘harassment’. Harassment is defined as violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.
If employers cannot show that they are an equal opportunities employer, and robustly carry that ethos throughout every aspect of the working relationship, they have no defence against an act of harassment that was carried out by a member of their staff, even though they had no idea what was happening.
From a slightly different perspective, how would this meting out of disciplinary sanctions fare in the UK against best practice for disciplinary procedures? Where was the invite to a disciplinary hearing, or the right to be accompanied? Employees would surely have a field day in a tribunal with this sort of employee relations malpractice.
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