Some people like hugs and some do not. Regardless of how you feel about hugging, it is important to understand a few basic ground rules for hugs at work. Is it okay to hug a coworker? A client? A subordinate? Determining whether it is proper to hug is not just a matter of workplace etiquette. Some people might misconstrue a hug, while others on the other end of the spectrum can take it too far and cross over into the realm of sexual harassment.
What are some basic guidelines for hugging at work?
You see a colleague you have not seen in a while, you are at an office party with employees, or you walk into a meeting with long-time clients. Is it okay to go in for a hug?
First, it is never okay to hug anyone who has made it clear that s/he does not want a hug. Some people find hugging awkward no matter the situation, and everyone in the office should respect that. And it is certainly not okay to hug someone at work and touch him/her inappropriately, press too closely, or whisper in his/her ear. But what about benign, sincere hugs? Are those appropriate at work?
It can be tough to strike a balance between gestures of camaraderie and inappropriate hugging. In a post on LinkedIn, Tim Sackett, president of HRU Technical Resources and self-proclaimed hugger, provides some excellent tips for workplace hugging. Some of his rules for hugging are a great starting point:
- Do not hug anyone you supervise.
- It is okay to return — but not initiate — hugs from clients.
- Do not hug anyone at the office you are dating.
- Hugging peers is probably okay, but only for those you do not see every day, and only if they are comfortable with it.
- It can be a good idea to let someone know you are a hugger and ask permission before going in for a hug. This gives him/her a chance to decline the hug if s/he is uncomfortable.
If you are ever in doubt as to whether a hug is appropriate at work, err on the side of not hugging. “If you’re questioning yourself whether it will be alright to hug someone professionally, that is your cue that it probably isn’t,” explains Sackett.
When might hugging be sexual harassment?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains that behaviors like hugging can be sexual harassment when they are “so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment.” Hugging can be sexual harassment if:
- there are sexual innuendos;
- the recipient has made it clear s/he does not want to be touched; or
- the hug is in any other way improper for work.
Hugging at work can expose an employer to liability, and victims of workplace sexual harassment have the right to file a report and/or lawsuit. For a free legal consultation with sexual harassment employment attorney, call Robert A. Klingler Co., L.P.A. today at 513-665-9500.