Adorning almost every street corner in London, popular sandwich shop chain Pret a Manger has been criticised after a female worker was spotted wearing a badge stating, ‘I am new kiss me!’
The badge was seen by journalist Bella Mackie at a Bishopsgate store, and she posted a picture of it on Twitter, captioned: "Come on Pret, it’s kind of gross to make new female employees wear this badge."
Pret defended itself, replying to the tweet: “we definitely don't ask our employees to wear badges with this message”, adding that the matter would be looked into “as a matter of urgency.”
The company added: "Our teams can order badges with names on and can personalise them,” – The Evening Standard reports.
However, that didn’t stop Twitter users from voicing concerns.
One customer said he had seen other members of staff wearing inappropriate messages. He said: "Interestingly, I saw today both that one alongside a black employee wearing one with 'hot chocolate' and thought 'am I being bad, or are they really doing this?'.
"If this is company policy, or even just encouraged, it's quite appalling."
One person tweeted: "The badge has a company logo on it, worn at work, so is representing the business. What if the employee had racist or homophobic beliefs or printed a political slogan would that too be OK on a corporate badge?"
A Pret spokeswoman told the Standard: "We do not ask our employees to wear badges with this message.
"Our teams can personalise their own name badges; on this occasion, the badge has been used inappropriately. We have already taken action and will be ensuring that only names are used on badges going forward.”
Whilst no company wants to restrain freedom of speech or supress individuality, firms should be able to differentiate between something harmless and something which could perpetuate negative stereotypes. Especially with numerous high-profile allegations of sexual harassment surfacing over the last few weeks, there is increasing awareness of what constitutes improper behaviour in a workplace setting.
Under the Equality Act 2010 “any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or related to sex, which has the purpose or the effect of violating dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” is prohibited.