The recent controversy surrounding Ted Baker boss Ray Kelvin raises an important issue.
Mr Kelvin, you may remember, has temporarily stepped down from his post whilst an investigation is held into complaints he forced workers to hug him.
Many claimed the hugs made them feel uncomfortable, whilst some also reported the kissing of necks and massaging of ears.
Let’s be clear about one thing. No employee should ever be treated in a way which makes them feel physically uncomfortable. Sexual harassment concerns aside, you are hardly likely to get the best out of any member of staff whose nerves have been shredded in this way.
And there is no doubt that forcing hugs on staff who do not want them could be considered sexual harassment. The key issues to remember here are that the way the complainant sees the hug is of vital importance whilst the intent of the hugger is not.
Essentially that means it is not necessarily okay to hug employee B just because employee A likes it, even though in both cases your own perception of the hug as a simple gesture of friendship is the same.
This means that a blanket policy of hugs can cause problems, particularly if employees do not want to take part but feel powerless to speak up. The power dynamic between the person handing out the hug and the member of staff is also crucial as is the context in which the hug is given.
So what should you do if you are hugged against your will at work?
The first thing to do is to speak up. Tell the person who has hugged you that you don’t like it and would prefer a simple handshake, or other form of greeting.
If the hugging continues – and you have made it clear that it is unwelcome – you should contact your HR department or your boss, who will then have a duty to look into your complaint.
If it is your boss who is doing the hugging, things are a little more complicated.
Speak up and let them know you are not happy with being hugged at work and keep a diary of when and where any hugs happen.
Record carefully how the hugs made you feel and the context in which they were offered. A boss cannot abuse their position to force themselves on to you without running the risk of a sexual harassment case.
The law states that if treatment of a sexual nature is unwanted and creates an intimidating, hostile, offensive or degrading environment for the employee, this amounts to sexual harassment.
If you feel that you are being treated in such a way, seek expert help. We offer a free consultation at which we would be able to assess your case in confidence and offer individually-tailored advice on the best way to proceed. Just click on the button to get our help.