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
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What’s ‘Inappropriate’ Touching at Work?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Your Office Coach

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"?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Kebin September 16, 2017 at 2:46 pm

So I got fired for playing with a supposed friend that’s what I thought I touched her in the chin she smile come to find out she reported me for harassment but in the office they said nothing about that only that I touch her without permission we used to joke around all the time and it’s crazy that management came with the legal liability and they fired me like nothing…is touching someone chin could be seen as harassment idk does anyone knows


Ciaran kelly June 3, 2017 at 5:24 am

I have a member of staff that stays she was inappropriately touched some where that she wouldn’t liked to be touched by one of our very regular and likeable characters. he is in gif 70’s. I automatically assumed that she was touched in one of her private parts the way she made it out. There was a big scene made by this and when she was questioned how and where she was touched she kept stating “somewhere I don’t want to be touched”. I had then checked the cameras and I seen that he had passed her in an area that is tight on space and you clearly seen one of his hands not near any private part but on her side. Very briefly. It looked very innocent to mess he had no where really else to go. Does this class as inappropriate touching or sexual harassment. I personally think she is making it out to be so much more


Megan Wiles April 17, 2016 at 1:58 am

I am a volunteer at work in the café, where a lady decided to touch my bottom lightly, I felt her hand brushing on my bottom. And I’m like, what is she doing to me, I am scared to tell my employer that this lady was inappropriately touching me my bottom. I don’t what to do, should I talk to someone or keep it to myself. Any advice please. Anyway this lady is my best friend at work, I was about to say to her that she is married and she can’t touch me. I like being touched up but not in that way.


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.


Kebin September 16, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Same **** they did to me just more touching someone now a days touching someone is a crime and harrasment it’s all bullshit


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