It is important to understand a few basic ground rules and dynamics for hugs at work. Is it okay to hug a co-worker? A client? A subordinate?
Determining whether it is proper to hug is not just a matter of workplace etiquette but a matter of neccesity especially in the times that we live in. Some people might misconstrue a hug while others on the other end of the spectrum can take it too far and cross over into the realm of sexual harassment. So, does this mean that if you hug a long-time co-worker in a congratulatory way, he or she would file a sexual harassment complaint against you? Not usually. But hugging in a professional environment can certainly cause confusion. While some co-workers may welcome hugs, others do not want to be touched even if you have the best of intentions.
So Is it ever ok to hug at work, or should you just stick to a polite handshake? Do you have rights to refuse if you’d rather not hug colleagues? But what if your boss wants to hug you, cuddle you, massage you, or even to kiss your neck?
Some staff from the fashion firm Ted Baker have signed a petition complaining about the actions of the company’s founder and chief executive, Ray Kelvin. The petition accuses Kelvin of forcing workers to hug him.
Investigation have begun by the firm into allegations of verbal, physical and sexual harassment.
An anonymous Ted Baker employee told the BBC’s Today programme:
“He had a policy of hugging everyone, rather than a handshake. Nothing wrong with that, but these hugs were extremely physically imposing, as well as awkwardly long, often conducted very publicly in front of the whole office.There was nothing inherently wrong with the actual hugs, but the uncomfortableness came from what tended to accompany them. Unwanted personal comments, kisses on the cheek, neck-stroking all used to happen after [the hugs] – particularly with women. “My ‘welcome’ hug was in a relatively private environment of a meeting, but even so, I felt massively uncomfortable.”
Do you have any rights at work regarding hugs?
At work not all physical contact is inappropriate, and there’s nothing to stop adults hugging in the workplace if both parties consent. However, it is important to respect an individual’s personal space and not initiate any unwanted physical contact. It is important to report any unwanted physical contact to your line manager or HR department.
Crossing the line
If you can’t be resolve the problem informally, you have the right to make a written complaint, known as a grievance, about any problems you have at work, including problem hugging. This instigates a duty by your employer to investigate that complaint.
But what happens if the hugger is your boss? In this instance is less likely to be appropriate, due to the fact that the balance of power is more in favour of the more senior person and it is reasonable to assume that an employee would feel awkward or threatened. There is never a time when a massage or a kiss on the neck which are intimate acts would be appropriate at work, unless in a relationship with the other person and this happens privately.
What should you do if your colleague or boss behaviour constitutes sexual harassment?
Each situation has to be considered individually and needs to consider many factors, such as the duration of the hug, the positioning of the hands and body, and the extent of the personal space invasion.
The law states that if treatment of a sexual nature is unwanted and creates an intimidating, hostile, offensive or degrading environment for the employee, this amounts to sexual harassment. Under these circumstances, the person feeling uncomfortable may wish to raise a grievance and to complain to an employment tribunal.
Respect each other’s personal space
It is important to be clear that whether behaviour is harassment or not depends on the belief of the complaint and not the hugger. As well as whether a reasonable person would also find the behaviour under question offensive.
It is advised that employees who feel that physical contact crosses a line should keep a diary of occurences including times, dates and location, he says. Physical contact becomes sexual harassment when it violates your dignity or creates a hostile working environment. Even if the touching was not intended as as sexual harassment, if the individual feels harassed and it is reasonable for them to do so.
Here are some basic guidelines and rules that can help with the issue of hugs and whether some scenarios can be said as a form of sexual harassment or not.
Firstly, it is never okay to hug anyone who has made it clear to you that he or she does not want a hug. Some people find hugging awkward no matter the situation, and everyone in the office should respect that. With this in mind, It is certainly not okay to hug someone at work, touch them inappropriately, press too closely, or whisper in your co-worker’s ear. It can be tough to sometimes strike a balance between gestures of camaraderie and inappropriate hugging.
Some great tips to note includes :
- Do not hug anyone you supervise
- Do not initiate hugs with clients
- Do not hug anyone at the office
If you want to hug a person, it’s important to get their consent before doing so. This gives the other person the opportunity to grant their permission (or not) so that you are clear that the hug is welcomed.
If you are receiving unwanted hugs at work no win no fee Employment Law Solicitors can assist with all types of claims . Naturally, we pride ourselves on providing the best possible service to the highest standards, we offer free employment law advice on all problems. Call us on 0800 756 6605 or 020 3923 4777
Tom Street qualified as a solicitor in 2003 and has over 20 years experience in employment and litigation law. He studied law at the University of Manchester before undertaking the legal practice course at the College of Law in Guildford, going on to complete his legal training at a firm in Chancery Lane, London. Once fully qualified, he moved to a niche litigation practice in the City of London.
In 2010, Tom set up his own legal practice, Tom Street & Co Solicitors and as part of this, in accordance with his strongly held objective to provide everyone with an easy pathway to justice he established the online portals Do I Have A Case? and Tribunal Claim. These websites are trading names of Tom Street & Co Solicitors.