"Employers should have clear guidelines in place over what physical contact is acceptable in the workplace".
Julia Fitzsimmons, Employment Partner at FBC Manby Bowdler which has offices across the Midlands, says a number of high-profile cases have shown the need for companies to draw up clear policies over the issue.
Julia said cases such as those involving former US vice-president Joe Biden and Ray Kelvin, the former boss of fashion chain Ted Baker, demonstrated the need for companies to set out just what is acceptable contact in the workplace.
“Mr Biden is accused of unwelcome touching from a number of women and has promised to be ‘more mindful’ about physical contact as a result,” said Julia.
“One of the women said that Mr Biden had rubbed noses with her at an event while another said she had been kissed on the back of the head. A third said Mr Biden had rested his hand on her thigh at another event.
“Mr Kelvin was at the centre of a petition from staff over claims he forced people to hug him, and ended up stepping down from his role as a result.
‘Both cases highlight an important issue that all companies should be addressing – what is and is not acceptable in terms of physical contact at work?”
Julia said all companies should draw up clear guidelines on the issue for their staff and make sure that everybody was aware of what standard of behaviour was expected from employees.
“The way we greet and interact with people has changed markedly in recent years, with the introduction of hugs, kisses on the cheeks, high fives and such like, and it is vital that staff know what is acceptable in the workplace.
“Firms run the risk of being taken to employment tribunals unless they set out clear policies in this area.”