Bill Michael, the chief executive of KPMG UK, has stepped aside after he came under scrutiny for telling staff to “stop moaning” about COVID-19.
The accountancy firm has launched an independent investigation into the outburst on Monday in which he also allegedly asked employees to stop “playing the victim card.”
Insiders told the Financial Times, which reported it first, that he called the idea of unconscious bias - where someone makes assumptions about people based on characteristics such as gender or race – “complete crap”.
Staff reportedly complained on an app used to post comments anonymously during the meeting.
He has also been accused of meeting clients during lockdown, and urged them to follow his example, a source close to the firm told the newspaper.
Michael, who has chaired the company’s operations in the UK since 2017, apologised to staff before the end of the online meeting, which was attended by around 500 employees, and in a following email.
“I know that words matter and I regret the ones I chose to use today. I think lockdown is proving difficult for all of us. I am very sorry for what I said and the way that I said it,” he emailed.
He himself was hospitalised with coronavirus last March.
KPMG has asked one of its board members, Bina Mehta, to take the reins as chairman in the interim.
WATCH: Don't pick a fight with us over City access, BoE boss warns Brussels
A spokesperson for KPMG UK told Yahoo Finance on Thursday: “Following the meeting on 8 February, the firm initiated an independent investigation into the alleged comments in accordance with its usual procedures.
“Michael has decided to step aside from his duties as chair while the investigation is underway. We take this matter very seriously and will not comment further while the investigation is ongoing.”
It comes just days after the firm voluntarily unveiled that KPMG staff members from ethnic minority backgrounds are paid an average of 38.2% less than white colleagues due to their underrepresentation in senior roles.
KPMG has previously offered unconscious bias training to its employees across the globe.
Last week, the company also revealed in its UK’s full-year results that Michael was paid a total of £1.7m ($2.4m) in 2020, down from the £1.98m he received in 2019.
KPMG’s 582 partners, who make up most of its senior staff, took an 11% pay cut last year but still earned an average of £572,000 each.
Sales for the year slumped 4% to £2.3bn.
WATCH: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?