Who likes a hug? Well, probably all of us in the right place and at the right time. The question I have to ask; is work the right place and the right time?
We have recently seen in the news that staff of the clothing company Ted Baker have launched a petition against the firm’s culture of “forced hugging” which they were not all comfortable with. It was also reported that the founder of the firm asked female staff to sit on his lap and cuddle him.
The trouble is that a culture of unwelcome hugs in the workplace could bring the employer under fire from a case for harassment under the Equality Act. In order to claim harassment the employee has to show that they were being treated in a way that is “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual”. A relevant protected characteristic could be someone’s gender.
So it would be relevant (if it is true) that only female employees are asked to sit on the founder of Ted Baker’s lap and cuddle him. However, the culture of hugging at Ted Baker seems to be applied to all irrespective of their gender, age, race, nationality, or any other characteristic protected under the Equality Act.
Employers should be mindful at this festive time of year that a works party could be deemed to be work time. So watch out for unwelcome attention at the works Christmas party!
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