A company policy that sets “hug quotas” can be a very, very bad idea. If only one employee has sued for sexual harassment, the company should count itself lucky. Here are a couple of reasons why a “Hug Quota” policy can be problematic.
1. Hug Quotas Hurt the #MeToo Movement
A bit of common sense: look at the explosion of #metoo stories in the last two years and you’ll find an important theme: consent. The movement seeks a change in culture from “she didn’t say no, so I thought it was fine” to “it’s not fine unless she (or he, or they) say yes.” A workplace culture requiring hugs flies directly in the face of consent culture. It implies that employees must have bodily contact with other employees, bosses, and maybe others, as a condition of keeping their jobs – even if they don’t like to be touched. To those who are sexual assault survivors, something as seemingly simple as hugging a stranger can trigger their PTSD.
2. Hug Quotas Spur Sexual Harassment
A policy requiring hugging at work is a boon for sexual harassers. It begs the question: Why wouldn’t a predatory straight male boss make a point of hugging women rather than men to meet his quota? It would be very easy to make those hugs last a few seconds too long, or to let his hands “accidentally” wander. When a company policy not only encourages but mandates hugs, harassment will be nearly impossible for the company to police.
3. Hug Quotas Violate Federal Civil Rights Laws
Most importantly, the legal reason why this is a bad idea: a pervasive office culture requiring employees to accept unwanted hugs likely violates federal civil rights laws. In 2017, the Ninth Circuit set a ruling in Zetwick v. County of Yolo. Zetwick found that a woman’s harassment claim against her boss, who repeatedly gave her unwanted hugs and one kiss, was actionable. The court disagreed that the hugging was inherently innocuous and harmless. Unwanted gender-based touching, the court explained, does not have to be severe and pervasive to count as harassment, but severe or pervasive. Here, not only was the behavior gender-based because the boss was known for hugging only women but also, his hugging was pervasive. That was enough – the behavior did not have to be severe. To conclude, a company that expressly requires frequent hugging has just handed would-be plaintiffs in the “pervasiveness” element of their harassment claims.
If you need assistance with any work policies or employment law matters, please contact Hackler Flynn and Associates.
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