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Maybe hugs should stay out of the workplace

| Feb 20, 2020 | Sexual Harassment |

The workplace greeting has changed over the years. People have become more familiar with each other. The workplace used to be a space for handshakes and nothing else, but many workers now go a bit further, often even hugging those they feel close to.

While there are those who argue that this is just “who they are” and that they shouldn’t have to change, and even though they may mean nothing by their actions, hugs probably should be kept out of the work environment.

Not everyone is comfortable with the same level of physical contact. One co-worker may take a hug in stride, while another may be offended.

Hugs can also move into the realm of harassment and a hostile work environment. For instance, there was a case where a man always shook hands with those who worked under him, if they were men, but he always hugged them if they were women. Does that create a hostile environment for female employees who feel like their boss is being too forward and getting too close to them, physically speaking, because they are women? Did his conduct create an uncomfortable or even hostile power imbalance in the workplace, that female employees resent?

Physical contact, including hugs, does not come across in the same way to men and women. In fact, physical contact that men may feel is acceptable, women may see as threatening or demeaning. When it is hard to draw definite lines, it is best to decide that hugs and close physical contact stay out of the workplace.

If you have been harassed at work, perhaps by a supervisor who took advantage of their position of power, to touch you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable when you have made it clear to them that you find the contact offensive, you do have the legal right to stop it.