Is it OK to Hug at Work?

Hugging in the workplace is a divisive subject and one that’s increasingly hitting the headlines in the UK. But while many people are happy to be tactile with colleagues, others may feel deeply uncomfortable about making physical contact with co-workers. So at what point does it break the law?

The person giving the hug might genuinely believe they’re offering someone a warm greeting or consoling them when they’re upset, and have no sinister motivations at all. But the person being hugged can see it very differently. It could be perceived as degrading, hostile or even as an attempted sexual advance – and this could be enough to ignite a harassment claim.

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Guidance for Hugging at Work

There’s no clear legal guidance in UK employment law on whether or not hugging a colleague is acceptable. However, if you’ve been made uncomfortable by unwanted physical contact, here’s what you can do:-

Tell the Other Person How You Feel

Firstly, if a colleague hugs you and you’re not comfortable, say so. Of course, this isn’t always easy to do, but if your colleague is reasonable and genuinely didn’t mean to upset you, they should respect what you say without question and move away.

Speak to Your Manager

If the problem persists even after you’ve made your feelings known, speak to your human resources department or take the matter straight to your manager.

Lodge a Written Complaint

If you’ve tried to deal with the hugging situation informally and still believe a problem exists, you can submit a written complaint to your employer. Your employer should then investigate the matter in line with its internal grievance policy.

Keep a Record of Unwanted Physical Contact

If hugging is a persistent problem in your workplace that makes you uncomfortable, log information such as when and where it has happened. This could prove useful if you need to make a formal grievance to your employer, or contact our Employment Solicitors for free initial advice about making a sexual harassment claim.

Is Hugging Sexual Harassment?

As we said earlier, many people view hugging as a friendly, innocuous action, so may hug without any sexual intent or motivation.

If being hugged made you feel humiliated, degraded, offended or threatened, you could potentially argue that the hug constituted a sexual advance that made you feel harassed. Harassment has to involve unwanted conduct.

If you have made it clear to an individual or your employer that you are not comfortable with this level of physical contact then you could have a claim for sexual harassment at work.

I’m a Hugger – What Should I Do?

If you’re a naturally tactile person who’s comfortable making physical contact with co-workers, you need to be conscious that not everyone feels the same way.

To remove any question over possible sexual harassment or intimidation, any physical contact shouldn’t really extend beyond something where the other person clearly has an opportunity to back out – such as a high five or a handshake.

With movements such as Time’s Up and #MeToo driving new attitudes towards sexual harassment in society and not just at work - and empowering people to speak up about it - it’s more important than ever to exercise some judgement in the workplace. Apply some common sense, consider the context of the situation and think about how the other person may feel before acting.

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