06 December 2018
Ted Baker: Is Hugging Sexual Harassment?
It’s “business as usual” at fashion firm Ted Baker according to recent media reports as lawyers are brought in to independently investigate allegations of sexual harassment.
The company’s founder, Ray Kelvin, was accused of inappropriate conduct after staff launched an online petition in a bid to bring attention to their complaints. Allegations included that he kissed people’s ears, stroked their necks and offered massages, but it is the culture of “enforced hugging” that has grabbed most of the headlines.
Not all physical contact is inappropriate and there’s nothing to stop consenting adults hugging in the workplace. But would-be huggers should be mindful that not everyone will welcome a hug and the context will often not be suited to one.
How do I put a stop to workplace hugging without making things awkward?
If you would prefer not to hug, but to shake hands or even to ‘high five’ instead, you’ve every right to say so. If you find yourself mid-hug and it feels uncomfortable to you, the best course of action would be to break if off or ask the other person to stop. The law can’t step in and put a stop to a hug there and then, although employees do have the right to discuss matters privately with one another.
It takes courage to tell someone you work with that you find their hugs uncomfortable, but it will often be the quickest and easiest way to get them to stop. You could also speak to a colleague in confidence, to a manager you trust, or tell Human Resources. Employees have the right to raise a written complaint, known as a grievance, about any problems they have at work, including if those problems relate to hugging.
What if the ‘hugger’ is my boss?
It is less likely to be appropriate if the person doing the hugging is your boss, because the balance of power favours the more senior person. It would be entirely understandable for you to feel awkward or even intimidated if your boss goes in for a hug. In this situation, you could tell your boss you don’t like it, or speak to another manager or HR if you’re concerned.
If you’re comfortable with hugging, or other physical contact, then that’s fine, but be mindful of others’ feelings. Staff at Ted Baker have also reported being massaged or kissed on the neck which are more intimate acts that would almost never be appropriate at work, unless you’re in a relationship with the other person and this happens in a private space.
When does hugging become sexual harassment?
It all depends on the situation, which could include many factors like the duration of the hug, the positioning of the hands and body, and the extent to which the other person invades your personal space. If any one or more of these things is out of place, hugging can turn into cuddling, or something even more intimate. Hugging (or more) could constitute sexual harassment, which is unlawful. 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 this happens, you may wish to raise a grievance and to complain to an employment tribunal.