Ahead of National Kissing Day next week (24 June 2016), solicitors Doyle Clayton, a leading specialist in workplace law, is warning that kissing in the workplace, even a ‘mwah’ on the cheek of colleagues and favoured suppliers, is a legal and etiquette nightmare – potentially even leading to costly discrimination and harassment rulings.
Darren Clayton, Senior Partner of Doyle Clayton, says:
“With today’s politically correct employment law and changing conventions, sadly an innocent kiss on the cheek is a legal minefield for employers when it happens in the workplace between colleagues or clients.
“There are issues around whether someone is consenting to such contact, no matter how innocuous, and especially issues around whether subordinates are consenting or simply going along with it because they feel they have to. This gives the potential for accusations that it is unwanted attention leading to claims of harassment.
“Conversely there is also the potential for people who don’t get such friendly greetings to feel excluded and discriminated against!
“Sadly, the conclusion is that cheek kissing is a minefield, particularly for owners and bosses. I would strongly advise them to scrupulously avoid kissing any employee on the cheek, no matter how pleased you are with them and how established your relationship. A tribunal awarded a doctor’s receptionist £600 for injury to feelings in 2013 when one of the doctor’s kissed her after she told him she had run a half marathon the previous day.
“Of course, the law often flies in the face of common sense and convention – the idea that you can’t give a big friendly ‘mwah’ to colleagues will be anathema in many sectors such as fashion, Public Relations and much of the media. Indeed, in one case the employment tribunal commented that it struggled to understand an employee’s reaction, or over reaction, to a public display of affection colleagues in light of the evidence that it was “a cool environment in which to work”. By contrast, straight laced professionals like many accountants and lawyers may well welcome an end to the uncertainty over when to deploy a greeting kiss.
“A work kiss raises all sorts of conundrums. What is the right etiquette for after works drinks? What about birthday parties of colleagues? What about kissing clients? What if your colleagues are kissers and you don’t like it? And what on earth do you tell your visiting French and Italian colleagues???
“Employers are liable for their employees’ acts carried out both at work and at work-related social events and what might seem like an innocuous act to one person may not be viewed that way by another. As a rule of thumb, if you would happily greet a colleague or client with a kiss, but refrain from doing so in the presence of their, or your own, boss then you should think again about whether your behaviour is appropriate.