Confession time: I’m a hugger. When another person might be inclined to go for a warm handshake, I’ve got my arms flung open wide like I’m greeting a long-lost relative at the airport. Over time, I’ve learned to pick up cues that other people don’t view social gatherings as a full contact sport, and hug only when appropriate. Which means, among other things, never ever hugging anyone in the office.
Why? Because I don’t want to make my coworkers uncomfortable, of course. But also, I’d prefer not to get sued.
A recent post at HR Legalist offers several cases that illustrate the dangers of hugging in a professional setting. For example:
In Zetwick v. County of Yolo, No. 14-17341 (9th Cir. Feb. 23, 2017), the county sheriff frequently hugged his female officers, but he gave his male employees handshakes. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a reasonable juror could find that the conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment, especially given the fact that the conduct came from a supervisor.
Another case, Madray v. Publix Supermarkets, Inc., involved a grocery store manager who was “found to have engaged in sexual harassment by hugging and patting his employees.” (Ew.) The plaintiffs said they weren’t initially offended, but that his behavior escalated. The Eleventh Circuit Court found that his actions constituted sexual harassment.
Just Don’t Hug Anyone at Work
The takeaway here is pretty simple: don’t hug your coworkers. Don’t hug your teammate, don’t hug your boss … and whatever you do, don’t hug your direct report. If you do, you open yourself and your company up to the potential for a lawsuit.
Beyond that, consider that embracing your colleagues could make things socially awkward and eventually less productive — it’s hard to get your head in the game when you’re replaying a mental movie of an awkward hug with a coworker.
And don’t assume you can tell who’s OK with hugging and who isn’t. Working in professional environment means getting a lot of practice putting on a happy face. You never know what people are thinking.
In fact, the safest thing is to assume that everyone on your team is anti-hug.
“Most of us don’t want that intimacy with our coworkers,” says Jim Webber of Evil Skippy at Work in an interview with TODAY. “We have to be with them 40 hours a week. We don’t want to hug them, too. ”
Tell Us What You Think
How do you feel about hugs at work? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.