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TikTok accused of mishandling sexual harassment allegations

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TikTok has been accused of mishandling allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment towards a senior supervisor in London, highlighting longstanding issues in regards to the working tradition on the fast-growing social media platform.

Steve Ware, former head of TikTok’s UK ecommerce studio operations, made inappropriate sexual feedback and advances to younger feminine workers members and purchasers, together with influencers who create content material on the app, in keeping with 4 ladies who labored with him at TikTok.

Ware has advised the Monetary Instances that every one allegations towards him are “false”.

The problems associated to Ware observe earlier claims about failures to handle formal HR complaints towards senior workers and issues in regards to the working tradition on the short-form video app owned by China’s ByteDance.

The FT reported final yr that Joshua Ma, who had been main TikTok’s European ecommerce staff, advised workers at a dinner that “as a capitalist”, he “didn’t consider” in maternity depart. Ma stepped down from his function following the revelation however stays on the firm.

One girl, whom we name Sarah to guard her identification, outlined a collection of distressing encounters together with her boss, Ware, in late 2021 and early 2022. The FT has reviewed messages between Sarah and Ware, her communications with TikTok, in addition to with mates that corroborate facets of her story.

Sarah stated the behaviour included being repeatedly propositioned by Ware within the workplace, at work occasions, over messages despatched exterior work hours, and two cases of inappropriate touching. Sarah stated she felt unsafe and trapped in rooms alone with him, the place he as soon as tried to kiss her and on one other event threatened to “slap her arse”.

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In early 2022, Sarah raised the difficulty with Ware’s supervisor, Patrick Nommensen, who positioned her on instant paid suspension as the corporate investigated the grievance.

Nommensen requested Sarah to solely go surfing to inside techniques to contact him or the corporate’s ethics officer in regards to the investigation, in keeping with an inside message reviewed by the FT. Sarah stated she submitted about 30 screenshots of communications and a listing of 5 individuals who may help her account to the investigation.

Ware had resigned from TikTok and left the corporate in September 2022 earlier than the probe concluded.

TikTok’s investigation upheld the allegation that Ware had made inappropriate feedback and messages that fell wanting its code of conduct on harassment, in keeping with a letter seen by the FT. Nonetheless, TikTok added that it discovered these cases occurred earlier than Sarah and Ware had been concerned in a “consensual romantic relationship”.

Sarah denies ever having a consensual relationship with Ware and stated she was shocked and upset by the result. TikTok failed to supply her with any proof of such a relationship, she added. Ware didn’t reply to requests for touch upon whether or not it was his place that he had been in a consensual relationship with Sarah.

After the result of the investigation, Sarah’s fixed-term employment contract was terminated with a month’s discover. “They realised he had left, and it didn’t mirror badly on TikTok anymore,” she added. “I used to be left ready for six months with none end result . . . I didn’t get any justice.

“I used to be terrified of shedding my job if I stated one thing . . . and [that is what happened] ultimately,” she added.

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TikTok stated Sarah had been employed on a fixed-term consultancy contract that had been because of expire throughout the investigation. Her employment was prolonged past this date, and when the probe concluded, her contract was dropped at an finish, it added.

“As quickly as this grievance was made, we launched an intensive investigation, together with interviewing 10 completely different witnesses to find out info. We’re assured we took applicable steps in response,” TikTok stated.

Others interviewed by the FT additionally complained of misconduct by Ware. Two of those ladies stated they shared their private experiences with TikTok’s ethics officer in relation to the corporate’s investigation into Ware.

One girl employed by an exterior firm that labored with TikTok stated Ware requested her for oral intercourse in an workplace and, in one other occasion, stated he wished to “rip her garments off”.

In different incidents, corroborated by two ladies, Ware mentioned the sexual act of “teabagging” with younger feminine staff and, individually, requested about their intercourse lives.

The problems associated to Ware come as TikTok quickly expands its workers base as the corporate seeks to problem social media rivals comparable to Fb, Instagram and YouTube.

5 former staff in whole advised the FT they skilled or personally witnessed sexual harassment on the organisation in its UK and European workplaces. The UK and Europe are thought-about TikTok’s largest markets after the US, accounting for greater than $800mn of its income in 2021.

Certainly one of these individuals stated they lodged a grievance in regards to the supervisor of a content material moderation hub who eliminated his T-shirt twice in enterprise conferences so he was bare-chested. This individual added the identical supervisor instructed that girls’s garments had been too revealing, and made feedback in regards to the intercourse lives of extra junior colleagues he managed.

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The worker stated an investigation by no means concluded as she and a HR govt coping with the difficulty left shortly after the grievance was made. The supervisor stays employed by TikTok in a unique function. TikTok stated it had decided that the supervisor eliminated his T-shirt on one event and has now opened an inside investigation into the matter after the FT raised the difficulty.

Two former staff additionally stated they had been frequently anticipated to share flats with the other intercourse whereas travelling for work, which they believed perpetuated a tradition of undesirable sexual communication.

“Harassment of any sort in our office is totally unacceptable and might be met with the strongest type of disciplinary motion attainable,” TikTok stated. “We’re totally assured within the rigour of our course of for surfacing, investigating and taking motion on any and all complaints of this nature.” 

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