Q- My client has recently read online that some staff are calling for physical contact at work to be banned, is this something they need to think about
A – Your client is likely referring to the recent study conducted by Totaljobs, which revealed that 76% of respondents would like the level of physical contact they experience in work reduced, whilst 42% would like an outright ban on certain interactions.
These findings certainly raise some interesting points about physical contact in work, especially when you consider that unwelcome contact could qualify as sexual harassment in some instances. Your client should always keep in mind that they have a duty to guard staff against unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that violates their dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
According to the study workplace greetings such as hugs and kisses proved particularly unpopular, with 25% of respondents admitting to actively avoiding a colleague or client due to their choice of greeting. Therefore, your client is advised to review any long-standing practices when it comes to greetings and consider how these could make staff feel particularly uncomfortable.
They should also consider that just because certain affectionate greetings are acceptable to some staff this may not be the case for others, and individuals should feel comfortable disclosing any issues through your client’s official grievance procedure. Any complaints of harassment suffered at the hands of colleagues should be handled seriously and in a timely manner, as a failure to do so could leave your client open to tribunal proceedings
Whilst your client is certainly right to think about the issues caused by physical contact in work, trying to implement an outright ban on it may be somewhat extreme, not to mention difficult to enforce. Therefore, as an alternative, it would be wise to provide staff with training on how certain behaviour could result in sexual harassment to discourage inappropriate conduct at work.
For the reasons stated above a simple handshake is generally preferred at work as a neutral non-invasive greeting. However, this can also be unwelcome at times especially for staff with specific religious beliefs. Therefore, your client would do well to assess their own workforce to determine what specific steps are required to manage physical contact and sexual harassment at work.