HR · 4 December 2018

Is hugging at work considered sexual harassment? Lessons from Ted Baker

Ted Baker shares have hit a three-year low
Kate Palmer, associatedirector of advisory at Peninsula, responds to stories of “forced hugging” at Ted Baker with an explainer for employers on hugging at work in a sexual harassment context.

Shares in Ted Baker have hit a three-year low after allegations of “forced hugging” about the fashion group’s founder and boss, Ray Kelvin. The company has insisted hugs are “part of Ted Baker’s culture, but are absolutely not insisted upon” so is hugging at work considered sexual harassment?

Whilst some people are naturally more tactile than others and are happy to take part in a celebratory hug at work, or even a daily hug to say good morning, others are less so inclined. A workplace culture which involves hugging may be an uncomfortable environment for the latter.

2 pivotal points to consider

The answer to the question is that yes, hugging could be considered sexual harassment where it is unwanted conduct related to sex. Employers should remember that two points are particularly pivotal to the determination of harassment: 1) the complainant’s individual perception of the behaviour is very important i.e. just because one person doesnt feel harassed by a hug doesnt mean that another person shouldnt, 2) the intention of the one who instigates the hug is not. I didnt mean it as harassment? is no excuse to being perceived as such.

Employers who promote hugging, or who themselves see hugging as a way of making a connection with employees or building trust with them should be careful of a culture of forced? hugs, where an employee does not want to partake but fears the consequences of a refusal.

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Phlip Green

No, Philip Green, banter is not a defence against sexual harassment

Being surprised today that a powerful billionaire harassed the women who worked for him is like being shocked about once beloved 70s entertainment icons actually turning out to be horrendous sex abusers.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Kate Palmer CIPD is the head of advisory at law firm Peninsula and is a member of its senior leadership team. She joined in 2009 having held a senior HR manager's role in another large company. With a specialist background in facilities management in the NHS, Kate offers a wealth of employment law experience. She's an expert negotiator - one notable case was with the NHS's trade unions over terms and conditions in the Agenda for Change pay system.

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