UNWANTED PHYSICAL TOUCHING IN THE WORKPLACE

When it comes to physical contact between people, what to one person is friendliness or a casual expression of affection may to another feel like an encroachment upon personal space. Many times, this is cultural. In some cultures, people are raised on exuberant expressions of affection with a lot of kissing, hugging, back-slapping, and even rough-housing. In others, even close family members maintain a degree of physical reserve.

CULTURAL AND PERSONAL ATTITUDES TOWARD PHYSICAL TOUCHING

Not only are there cultural differences in the amount of physical contact that is acceptable, individuals have varying degrees of tolerance for touch that are idiosyncratic. In other words, some people are simply more sensitive to touch than others as a matter of individual taste. Whereas one person may welcome a casual shoulder massage from a co-worker, another may feel violated.

In the workplace, touching others can leave someone open to misinterpretation or accusations of harassment. People need to be aware that certain actions are simply not appropriate in the work environment, as they may be considered demeaning, humiliating, harassing, or otherwise offensive by the recipient, even if the intention is platonic. Of course there are those whose ostensibly platonic signs of affection are a cover for sexual intent.

EXAMPLES OF UNWELCOME PHYSICAL CONTACT

Other than overt grabbing or pinching of breasts, groin, or buttocks which most would agree constitute sexual harassment, these are some forms of physical contact that some people find unwelcome and should be avoided at work:

  • Hugging
  • Kissing (even on the cheek)
  • Stroking
  • Massaging
  • Back-patting
  • Hair-ruffling
  • Handshakes held too long
  • Linking arms
  • Light (or otherwise) slapping of the buttocks
  • Hip bumping
  • Putting an arm around someone’s shoulders or a hand on their arm
  • Holding someone’s hand
  • Poking or pointing with a finger

HOW TO HANDLE UNWANTED PHYSICAL CONTACT AT WORK

If you are dealing with a co-worker who consistently violates your personal space and makes physical contact that you are uncomfortable with, you should calmly ask him or her to stop the behavior. It might be entirely innocent, and once your fellow employee realizes that the touch is unwanted, it may never happen again. Problem solved. But if the unwanted touching continues after you’ve made your wishes clearly known, you may need to take the problem to the next level and speak to a manager about it.

COMPANY RESPONSIBILITY

It is the responsibility of a company’s management to maintain an environment where everyone is respected, and this includes being aware of and honoring each employee’s sensitivities about physical touch. If the touching is of a sexual nature and you have made your preference not to be touched clear and approached your supervisor about the problem and it has not stopped, it may have reached the level of creating a hostile working environment.

LEGAL ASSISTANCE

At this point, you may need to file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). You should consult an employment attorney to help you file your complaint and advise you on initiating a lawsuit against your employer.

If the touching that offends you is not associated with your sex or inclusion in a class that is protected by law, you may be able to makes a claim for civil assault or battery.

In San Diego and the surrounding area, the attorneys at the law firm of Zeldes, Haeqquist, & Eck, LLP, will provide you with the advice and assistance you need in filing your sexual harassment or civil battery claim. We are sensitive to your needs and firmly committed to a California workplace in which every employee’s dignity is respected at all times. We will determine if you have valid cause to make a complaint and help you file it with the appropriate agency. Once we receive a “right to sue” letter, we can initiate a lawsuit on your behalf against your employer.

FREE CASE CONSULTATION AT ZELDES, HAEQQUIST & ECK, LLP

At Zeldes, Haeqquist & Eck, LLP, we offer a free initial consultation. It is important that you act promptly, because state and federal statutes restrict the amount of time you have to file your claim. By waiting too long, you could lose your right to legal remedies for the harassing behavior. Protect that right by calling today.