By Kanishka Singh
(Reuters) - KPMG UK chairman Bill Michael is stepping aside while the accounting firm probes comments he made this week, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday after a report that Michael dismissed staff concerns about job stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The KPMG spokeswoman said that after a staff meeting on Monday, KPMG started an independent probe into Michael's comments.
"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," she said in an emailed statement.
The Financial Times newspaper on Tuesday reported that Michael apologised after telling consultants in an online meeting to "stop moaning" about the impact of the pandemic on their work lives.
He said staff should stop "playing the victim card," and two insiders reported he told staff that he was meeting clients for coffee despite lockdown rules and dismissed unconscious bias as "complete crap," the newspaper added.
Michael later apologised to staff in an email, according to the newspaper.
"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 said, according to the newspaper.
His remarks triggered angry responses from some staff on an app used to post comments anonymously during the meeting, the newspaper reported.
The newspaper also reported that Michael's suggestion that staff needed to stop complaining and work harder was badly received as a staff poll at the beginning of the meeting showed a high percentage of consultants said they were struggling to cope during the pandemic.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)