Culture & Engagement, HR Industry, Rants and Raves

“No Touching!” A Few Thoughts on Bodily Autonomy in the Workplace

woman with teal hair wearing red supreme shirt grab by person
Photo by Pedro Sandrini on

Here comes the HR Buzzkill about to tell us about another thing we shouldn’t do in the workplace.

Listen—I really don’t care if you hug one another in the workplace; there are even some benefits to physical touch in a work environment. What I do have an issue with is when that type of intimacy becomes forced or even potentially non-consensual.

I knowyou’re just a hugger with innocent intentions; besides, a lone hug is unlikely to rise to the level of sexual harassment!

There are plenty of non-sexual reasons why someone might reject a physical touch. Some people may maintain their personal space due to a health condition (such as an anxiety disorder or a compromised immune system). Others may limit these types of interactions for religious or cultural reasons. Even absent of these factors—some people just simply don’t like being touched! Everyone has the right to their bodily autonomy and they don’t owe you an explanation.

A hug isn’t the only seemingly innocent, yet invasive type of touch that can happen in the workplace: persons of color are tired of people reaching for their hair and pregnant women would like you to keep your hands away from their already-occupied bellies.

Ok—you get it. You’re not actually going to touch someone without asking first, but sometimes even that’s not enough. A person might agree to a hug in the moment, but may have felt pressure to comply due to an imbalance in power or figured avoiding the awkwardness of a (likely public) rejection would be the less stressful option.

While I don’t necessarily have any “rules” around workplace hugging, here are a few final thoughts:

  1. Never ever touch anyone without their consent
  2. Avoid touching strangers. Save these interactions for those you have an understanding personal relationship with
  3. When in doubt, stick with a handshake