Different people have different levels of comfort when it comes to physical contact, so knowing what is appropriate for the workplace can be tricky. Even handshakes and pats on the back can be unwelcome depending on how they are delivered.
Most people can easily recognize the most obvious form of sexual harassment, which is known as quid pro quo, or demanding sexual acts in return for favorable employment conditions. The other form of sexual harassment is known in legal terms as a hostile work environment. A workplace filled with offensive jokes, gestures, or pictures can be a hostile environment even if the conduct is not directed at a specific person and there was not inappropriate physical contact.
What Kind of Physical Contact is Appropriate?
There can be a fine line between appropriate and inappropriate physical contact in the workplace. What one person perceives as a warm hug, another will find creepy. Lingering handshakes or eye contact that qualifies as a gaze are also not appreciated among co-workers. Often, a gesture meant to be funny, such as a slap on the behind, ends up as a complaint filed with human resources.
It is not uncommon for managers to receive complaints for a wide range of questionable incidents – from what was meant to be a welcoming kiss on the cheek to a happy slap on the back. The following are some tips for recognizing the boundaries of appropriate physical contact at work.
- Use common sense – Observe colleagues’ reactions to physical contact and adjust accordingly. Do they shy away from physical gestures or initiate any contact themselves? Be sensitive to the comfort level of others. As a rule, do not touch anybody if you are not yet well acquainted, even to high-five them.
- Some people avoid physical contact for reasons of hygiene. If you are greeting a colleague in a bathroom, do not shake hands or make other physical contact unless you have washed your hands first. The same applies for sneezes, coughs, and nose blowing. Smiles and warm greetings are appreciated by those concerned about the spreading of germs.
- In a confrontation at work, it is wise to refrain from any physical contact. In the heat of an argument, grabbing someone by the arm or poking them in the chest can be interpreted as physically threatening and lead to your dismissal, or at worst – an assault charge.
- At work, it is never appropriate to grab yours and anyone else’s private parts.
Red Bank Sexual Harassment Lawyers at McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. Guide Those who have Experienced Unwanted Physical Contact at Work
If you have experienced harassment or discrimination at work, or are dealing with a hostile work environment, call McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. to speak with an experienced Red Bank employment lawyer about your legal options. We partner with each client to provide customized legal representation to achieve the best possible outcome for every case we take.