What’s ‘Inappropriate’ Touching at Work? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Question: What kind of touching is considered “inappropriate” at work? I don’t mean sexual contact, but simply an occasional pat on the arm or a hand on someone’s back. One of our managers, who is naturally gregarious, received a formal complaint about this kind of touching. The complaining person never said before that she was offended, so how was he to know? My own management style has been described as warm and “touchy-feely.” Should I start being more careful? -- Concerned

Marie's answer: Generally speaking, touching people at work is a bad idea. Unless physical contact is part of the job—as with doctors, hair stylists or massage therapists—it’s best to keep your hands to yourself. Here’s why:

  • Without psychic powers, you can’t predict how someone will react to a friendly pat. Outgoing people often view casual touches as warm and caring. But more reserved folks may regard any physical contact as intrusive and an invasion of their personal space.
  • Managers must be especially vigilant about potentially offensive behavior.  Because you hold a position of power, employees may feel obligated to quietly endure actions which they find distasteful. 
  • If your good-natured hugs and touches are misinterpreted as sexual overtures, you might find yourself slapped with an unexpected harassment charge. Both you and your company could then be held legally liable for your actions. (For a legal definition of sexual harassment, see the EEOC’s web site.)
  • Going forward, try to maintain your warm and personable style, but drop any behaviors that are literally “touchy-feely.” 

For a look at different management styles, see Do You Understand Your Boss's "Operating System"?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Thomas February 3, 2015 at 5:01 am

6 Weeks ago I was asked to either resign or be fired. Reason for this is I touched an Employee that was, at least I thought a great employee and who did a great job. We have known each other for the fifteen years that I had worked for this Company. Now I was a Supervisor
working Nights, with a very small crew of about 24 Employee’s. I had always felt that this person I touched was an employee that we had a good repore between us. He worked in the area we called the shipping department. My office was connected, but if I shut my door than, it is for talking with employee.s without interruption. Personal matters. So to get to the point I was floored, devistated . Because I came to work one evening in a great mood I came up behind him and said this is going to be a great night at the same time grabbed but not with any force at all, the quad or the back of the leg and said at the same time said hows things going tonight. I looked up to this individual because of his Seniority. This individual and I have worked together for sometime and even after I grabbed him, and released goofing around, well surprise to me. 7 days later I was called to work and released. I asked how come it took a week . He waited three days before he went to H/R.

Reply

Leave a Comment