A former Cos employee has claimed he was sexually harassed by another employee while working for the clothing brand.
Ben was in his early 20s when he first joined the company’s head office in London after graduating from university.
Over a period of two years, he claims he was subject to a series of boundary-crossing behaviours, including making comments about his sexuality, attempting to hold his hand and even nibbling his ears.
He decided to share his allegations after a nationwide survey revealed 70% of LGBTQ+ workers had been sexually harassed in their place of work.
Ben told Metro.co.uk: ‘He always used to make jokes about my ears. He would give me shoulder massages, rub my ears or play bite them. I’ve had to wipe saliva away from my ear in the past.
‘This is in the office, in front of everyone, he would joke around, pulling on my knee or play punching me. There was a whole thing of you just have to do what he wants.
‘He’d take me out shopping in the middle of the day, say to get a new pair of shoes for himself, even though I obviously had work to do.
‘On more than one occasion he tried to hold my hand. He said, “Let’s just pretend and see what people do.”
‘I was like, no let’s definitely not do that. It would have been a weird thing for friend to ask, never mind someone at work.
‘I had a boyfriend at the time, who he had met. It was super super inappropriate.’
The survey, conducted by Trades Union Congress in May this year, revealed that sexual harassment against LGBTQ+ people had become a ‘hidden epidemic’.
One in six people affected said they eventually left their jobs as a result of their experiences.
When Ben handed in his resignation at Cos, the alleged perpetrator stuck his middle finger up at him from across the office.
Ben says he then made comments about him joining the ‘gay mafia’, as his new role included working with LGBTQ+ issues.
He continued: ‘In my last week we had a big anniversary party for London Fashion Week. It was about 2am and we were sorting out photos.
‘I was sitting on the couch and he put one foot up next to me so his groin was in my face and pretended to pour champagne on my head.
‘I had to physically push him off me by the waist and say, “Don’t do that”. First thing the next morning I went and spoke to HR.’
He added: ‘The thing that bothered me the most was, I’m really good at my job. I work really hard. I didn’t want what was happening to take away from my achievements.’
Ben spoke to HR about how he was feeling, but said the alleged behaviour was dismissed as ‘workplace banter’.
In emails seen by Metro.co.uk, he continued to follow up on the process once he left the company, and was told his feedback would be taken seriously, as ‘any allegations of this nature are investigated’.
However, he was also told that they were unable to share any information with him because he is now no longer an employee.
Ben still has no idea if further action was ever taken and believes the alleged perpetrator has since been promoted.
He said: ‘I’ve always liked fashion or creative industries and in those places, it’s predominantly women and gay men.
‘I think sometimes the policies in those places are not as strong as they would be, say in the finance industry, where even if things are really bad they are still acknowledged.
‘In my case, it feels like what happened was made fun of. I do think it wasn’t taken seriously because we are both men.
‘I did actually say to HR, I know that if this was a male senior colleague and a junior female intern, you would act differently about it.’
When contacted by Metro.co.uk, a spokesperson for Cos said they were unable to comment on Ben’s case.
They continued: ‘We do not believe the individual in question raised any formal grievance under Cos’s HR policies and grievance procedures, which would otherwise provide an opportunity and a framework for matters to be appropriately investigated in a timely manner with safeguards for all concerned.
‘Cos is a business which prides itself on its culture, which it protects with robust HR policies and grievance procedures.’
*Not his real name.
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