Don't Let Nat'l Hugging Day Land You in Legal Trouble

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on January 21, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's National Hugging Day! The day all you Bear Huggers and Snuggle Huggers have been waiting for.

But before you move in for that warm embrace, make sure to first squeeze out any potential legal issues. After all, you don't want to end up as the resident Creepy Hugger.

Here are three ways you can hug your way into legal liability if you aren't careful:

  1. Sexual harassment. While hugs do sometimes show up as part of sexual harassment cases, they are usually combined with inappropriate comments, grabbing, or other offensive behavior, as Ernest Haffner, a senior attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told the WorkingKind blog. Always channel your inner Thumper during a hug: "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." But don't say anything too nice, either.
  2. Assault and battery. Even if you're a "polite hugger," the fact of the matter is any unwanted contact can potentially constitute an assault or battery. That includes hugs from bosses that linger just a little too long or contact that brushes against a colleague's neck, chest, or lower body. For all that is right in the world, no pelvic pressing at work. Period.
  3. Hostile work environment. In general, a hostile work environment is one that is so charged with harassment or similar unwanted behavior against a member of a protected group that it interferes with his or her ability to work. An innocent hug alone may not suffice as conduct that is severe and/or pervasive and objectively offensive. But an office full of huggers on National Hugging Day may be a different story. Don't delude yourself into thinking that if everyone in the office appears to be of the touchy feely variety, then your hugs must be OK. The golden rule: if ex-San Diego Mayor Bob Filner would feel at home in your office, something is amiss.

The student who was suspended for hugging a teacher can attest to the fact that even if you have the most innocent of intentions, you never know how a recipient will feel about intimate contact. Remember, not everyone is a hugger.

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