Hug it Out, Just Not Necessarily at Work

Don’t worry: hugs aren’t threatening your workplace

Posted by Jon Hyman in on February 17th, 2016

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Do hugs belong in the workplace?“ is the headline of a story on Cleveland.com 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.

Jon Hyman
Jon Hyman

Partner, Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis

Jon Hyman, a partner at Cleveland’s Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis, provides proactive solutions to businesses’ workplace problems. He authors the nationally recognized and multiple award winning Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, in addition to two books, Think Before You Click and The Employer Bill of Rights. Jon is an in-demand speaker, having lectured around the county on social media and other workplace legal issues. Jon offers his insight as a member of Workforce Magazine’s editorial advisory board and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s Employment Law Committee. Most recently, John Stossel featured Jon on an episode of his Fox Business television show. Finally, Jon appeared on a November 1999 episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, but sadly lacked the fastest fingers.

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