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Is Hugging at Work Considered Sexual Harassment?

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A recent court case involved “hugging it out” at work.  The hugging was by a male supervisor upon female employees.  In Zetwick v. County of Yolo, the court found hugging can be gender discrimination and a form of a hostile work environment for women when the hugging is pervasive and unwelcome by the female employees.

Hostile Work Environment

The Court considered the complaints of hugging based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for a hostile work environment where the employee is subjected due to her sex to verbal or physical conduct of a harassing nature; that this conduct was unwelcome; and that the conduct was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.

The employer claimed that “hugs” cannot be “harassing” because they are not outside ordinary workplace behavior.  The Court disagreed and found that indeed hugs could be “harassing” if they are pervasive and unwelcome.  The employee showed that she and her female co-workers had been hugged by their supervisor hundreds of times over the course of years.

Abusive Work Environment

The employer also argued that no reasonable person could find hugs so offensive as to create an “abusive” environment.  Again, the Court disagreed under these circumstances of the years that a supervisor engaged in the practice consistently, as opposed to merely sporadically.

If you believe you have been the victim of workplace discrimination or harassment, you should consult the experienced NH employment lawyers at Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C. at (603) 288-1403 for a free evaluation or fill out our online contact form for a free evaluation.