American Apparel management banned from office romances

08 January 2015 -


The US fashion chain has produced a new staff code of conduct that prohibits romantic relationships between bosses and staff

Jermaine Haughton

The US fashion chain has produced a new staff code of conduct that prohibits romantic relationships between bosses and staff

From Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger’s lust in Jerry Maguire to the secret agent love of Sandra Bullock and Benjamin Bratt in Miss Congeniality, office relationships have become immortalised in the public’s imaginations through popular films.

However, high street retailer American Apparel are no longer following the script as it has revised its ethical code forbidding workplace romances in an attempt to prevent sexual harassment among its employees.

In particular, the new code of conduct focuses on prohibiting sexual relations between management and lower-level staff, specifically stating that “no management-level employee may make sexual advances, welcome or unwelcome, toward any subordinate.

“No employee who has a personal relationship or romantic relationship with another employee may be in a position with any perceived or actual influence over the other's terms of employment,” the code notes.

However, the rules stipulate that if a relationship between a manager and a lower-level worker occurs, the participants must tell the Human Resources department or face punishment, such as a transfer to a different job or branch.

According to Bloomberg, the development correlates with last month’s sacking of founder and chief executive Dov Charney for alleged misconduct after he was accused of violating the chain’s sexual-harassment policies and improperly used company money fund the travel of his family members. However, none of the sexual harassment allegations lodged at Charney have ever been proven and the retail chief’s lawyer maintains that the accusations are “baseless.”

Since Charney’s departure, the fashion chain as appointed its first female chief executive Paula Schneider, who has worked at brands including BCBG Max Azria and retail veteran Colleen Brown as a chairperson. In conjunction with the new 6,200-word code of conduct, the firm’s bosses are clearly sending out a statement to staff and customers of cultural change taking place, led from the top figures of the company.

Most obvious in the new regulations is the retailer’s desire to legally separate and protect itself from potential sexual harassment cases in the future.

“Even in the case when a relationship between personnel does not involve a conflict of interest, employees are reminded of the intersection between the Company's Sexual Harassment policy and workplace conduct,” the ethics code explains.

“Unwelcome advances between Company personnel, even outside the workplace, is not professional behaviour and may violate Company policy. Company personnel should never engage in any public displays of affection in the workplace, which may make others uncomfortable. If any harassing conduct or unwelcome advances occur, the aggrieved employee should utilise the procedures for reporting sexual harassment.”

From a product standpoint, American Apparel is known for its stringent due diligence on the detail and patronage of its clothing, but the firm is aiming to replicate this vigilance in handling of its employees by trying to provide a safer working environment for its staff, particularly aiming to protect itself from accusations of misogyny.

American Apparel’s new code has arrived at an interesting time for business ethics, with the topic under mounting scrutiny from leadership experts. In 2014, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) published two MoralDNA reports that examined how ethical lapses are blighting managers themselves and company performance. In both cases, CMI concluded that senior figures in firms of all types must lead the way with conveying clear and digestible lines on conduct to their junior managers and staff. In the second report, CMI recommended that bosses should implement these seven steps:

1. Focus on purpose, values, leadership and culture

2. Develop leaders

3. Make values-based decisions that show you really care

4. Harness diversity to challenge ‘groupthink’ with constructive dissent

5. Win hearts as well as minds – engage customers and empower colleagues

6. Measure what really matters: escape the unintended consequences of short-term targets

7. Reward and recognise values-based behaviours

It may prove that American Apparel’s lengthy, 6,200-word code will be a challenge for employees to fully absorb – and could spawn as much confusion as it aims to clear up.

Image of American Apparel store courtesy of 360b / Shutterstock

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