Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Hug it out, just not necessarily at work

Do hugs belong in the workplace?“ is the headline of a story on that caught my attention.

The hug just may be on its way to competing with the handshake as a common workplace greeting. The percentage of people who say they would hug co-workers—that they either know well or haven’t seen in awhile—nearly doubled from five years ago, according to a recent poll.

Of course, one person’s hug is another’s creepy gesture or, worse, inappropriate advance. Where is the workplace line?

In the words of one court:

There are some forms of physical contact which, although unwelcome and uncomfortable for the person touched, are relatively minor. Cumulatively or in conjunction with other harassment, such acts might become sufficiently pervasive to support a hostile environment claim, but if few and far between they typically will not be severe enough to be actionable in and of themselves. A hand on the shoulder, a brief hug, or a peck on the cheek lie at this end of the spectrum. Even more intimate or more crude physical acts—a hand on the thigh, a kiss on the lips, a pinch of the buttocks—may be considered insufficiently abusive to be described as “severe” when they occur in isolation.

So, on one extreme you have this case, in which an employee was sexually caressed and hugged, and even had fingers poked in his anus through his clothing. Yet, on the other extreme, you have this case, in which a manager hugged a subordinate to lift his spirits during a rough work day.

So, employers, what’s the answer? How about some good, ol’ fashioned, common sense. If you have a close enough relationship with someone to greet with a hug, then hug it out. If someone complains about your hugs, stop. It’s just that simple.