Ted Baker founder and chief executive Ray Kelvin is taking a “temporary leave of absence” from the firm following allegations regarding his conduct with staff.

Kelvin’s voluntary leave of absence follows the fashion retailer appointing Herbert Smith Freehills to conduct an external independent investigation into the business after staff launched a petition alleging unprofessional behaviour by Kelvin including “forced hugging”.

The fashion retailer’s founder has agreed to take a leave of absence while the allegations are investigated. The board has appointed chief operating officer Lindsay Page as interim chief executive with immediate effect for the duration of Kelvin’s absence.

Kelvin said: “The accusations of the past week have raised some very serious and upsetting issues. It is only right that the board and HSF should investigate fully.

Ted Baker has been my life and soul for 30 years. I love this company and I care deeply for all my colleagues. It’s for that reason that I have decided to take a temporary leave of absence.

“Ted Baker means everything to me and I can’t bear to see it harmed in any way.”

Non-executive chair David Bernstein said: “As previously stated, the board has moved quickly to appoint Herbert Smith Freehills to conduct a thorough and independent external investigation into recent reports regarding the company and its chief executive.

“Ted Baker has great people across its global teams as well as a highly experienced operational board underpinned by the strength and experience of our teams. I am confident that the business remains in a strong position to continue to deliver its long-term growth strategy.”