Hug or Harassment? How Can You Be Sure?

Carol Smith

Carol Smith

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05 Dec 2018

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Reports have come to light of a culture of ‘forced hugging’ within the fashion chain, Ted Baker. More than 60 staff members have complained about the behaviour of Ray Kelvin, the founder.

A petition was signed by more than 1,000 people, which called for an end to the forced hugging, as well as other behaviour, such as kissing ears and massaging employees’ shoulders.

While this type of behaviour may seem harmless to some, it can have a significantly negative impact on employees’ wellbeing, morale, and mental health. As one former member of staff commented: “He would give long hugs: [the office] was a big open space where we all could see. He would hug several people a day and it would be very uncomfortable.”

What constitutes harassment?

The recent allegations may have caused you to think: “Do I have any policies that might allow a case of harassment to go unchecked?” If so, here is a basic definition for you to test your policies against:

Harassment at work involves one or more employees causing a colleague to feel upset, shamed, humiliated, intimidated, or violated in some way because they have subjected them to unwanted conduct which is related to their protected characteristic(s).

Common workplace harassment examples include:

  • Spreading rumours.
  • Insults, pranks, jokes, and teasing.
  • Flags and emblems that are offensive.
  • Unwelcome sexual advances.
  • Unwanted physical contact or touching
  • Undermining a competent employee with criticism on a continuous basis.
  • Offensive emails, tweets, and social networking interactions.

While on the surface a hug seems harmless, if the recipient doesn’t want to engage in the embrace, it is unwanted physical contact which could be related to the person’s gender. It could also be seen as an unwelcome sexual advance, depending on the circumstances.

Harassment can come from anyone, and can happen to anyone, regardless of position within the company or gender.

How do I prevent harassment?

If you believe any of your policies may encourage or facilitate harassment, conduct a review of the policy immediately and make amends where needed.

Take your policies a step further than prevention, encourage employees to report any incidents of harassment, and lay out the procedure they should follow if they wish to do so.

In your review, include investigation and disciplinary procedures, ensuring they are fair and measured.

Train your line managers to identify cases of sexual harassment and how to deal with them appropriately.

Include employees in the conversation. Encourage them to participate in training sessions, and provide clear, accessible guidelines for reporting.

Training sessions should include points on ‘professional etiquette’ that motivates the employee to correct bad habits, including behaviours such as unwelcome hugging, vulgar jokes, and more.

The sooner an issue is reported and a response given, the less likely it is to escalate and be taken to tribunal.

Expert Support

For support with sexual harassment in the workplace, whether it is regarding policies & procedures or an reported case of harassment, speak to a Croner expert on 01455 858 132

About the Author

Carol Smith

Carol joined Croner in 2001 as an Employment Consultant advising a wide range of clients on all aspects of Employment Law and HR practice. She demonstrates particular expertise in complex disciplinary, grievance matters and reorganisation / redundancy.

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Carol Smith

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