How do I Handle National Hugging Day at Work?

Amanda Beattie

Amanda Beattie

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18 Jan 2019

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There are many wonderful initiatives you can run in your business during the year. National Hugging Day is not one of them…

Celebrate religious festivals, like Easter, Eid or Rosh Hashanah. Recognise days of global importance, like International Women’s Day, World Mental Health Day or Earth Day. Organise events for deserving causes, like Movember or Red Nose Day.  

But give National Hugging Day a miss, and don’t hug your colleagues. Here’s why…

It’s a serious issue

Harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act. Its definition includes any unwanted physical behaviour, which includes hugging.

Crucially, the intent of the hugger doesn’t matter. If one colleague hugs another when they don’t want to be hugged, that counts as workplace harassment. And it happens a lot.

In one survey of women working in the US fast food sector, over a quarter said they had received unwanted hugging or touching at work.

More recently, unwanted hugs have also been the subject of intense scrutiny. Ray Kelvin, the founder of the fashion chain Ted Baker and John Lasseter, head of animation at Pixar and Disney, have both faced claims of inappropriate hugs at work. The allegations led to Lasseter losing his job. 

How do I handle a complaint of sexual harassment against staff?

Sensitively, thoroughly and fairly.

First, hold a grievance hearing with the employee who has made a complaint. Then, conduct an investigation.

Look carefully at industry best practice on handling a grievance and disciplinary, and make sure there are no gaps between this and your internal processes. Otherwise, you could risk a damaging future claim of discrimination or unfair dismissal. Follow the ACAS Code of Practice, but bear in mind that this isn’t a ‘step-by-step’ guide. 

If appropriate, you may be able to resolve the grievance informally. Your staff are human—misunderstandings do happen. In some cases, an apology and sincere behavioural change is the best outcome.

But other times, the informal route is not appropriate. If, after the investigation, you find that someone has harassed someone else, then you need to move on to a disciplinary hearing with that person.

For serious cases, such as harassment, you should get advice from an employment law and HR professional, such as Croner.

We can’t make investigating a grievance against an employee enjoyable. But we can reduce the stress and disruption to you and your business, and make sure you stay on the right side of the law.

Contact our UK-based team today for FREE, no-obligation advice. Please call 01455 858 132.

…so, who can I hug on National Hugging Day?

Hug your partner. Hug your children. Hug your family and the old friends who are practically family. Hug your mum (or give her a call, mums like being called). Hug your dog. Hug your cat (if you dare). Hug consenting adults.  

But don’t hug your staff.

About the Author

Amanda Beattie

Amanda represents corporate clients and large public bodies, including complex discrimination and whistleblowing claims. Amanda also drafts and delivers bespoke training regarding all aspects of employment law, including ‘mock tribunal’ events; in addition she also frequently drafts employment law articles for various publications for Croner and their clients.

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