Workplaces Could Ban Handshakes To Avoid Sexual Harassment Cases

There are calls for handshakes to be banned at workplaces in the UK in order to reduce the risk of sexual harassment cases.

Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at UK HR consultancy Peninsula, said that shaking hands with colleagues may be axed in a bid to avoid "grey areas."

"Some employers may put a complete ban on physical contact," she told Metro.

They may just say 'no contact at all' because there's no grey area.

Palmer cited the #MeToo movement as prompting many employers to think hard about how to prevent sexual harassment claims. She said that in some cases, workplaces have moved to implement more 'black and white' policies.

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Are handshakes at work set to be waved goodbye? Image: Getty.

While she has yet to see any go as far as banning shaking hands, she doesn't rule it out.

It appears that many support the idea, with a recent survey of 2,000 adults by UK job site Totaljobs revealing three out of four people want a total ban on physical contact in the workplace.

Two out of five said they found greetings awkward, and the majority of those polled reported wanting clear guidance on appropriate greetings in the workplace.

In Palmer's opinion, however, ruling out all touch -- including handshaking -- could be problematic.

"It makes it simple, but it takes away affection which in some ways is a sad thing," she said.

The late Princess Diana famously shook hands with patients suffering from AIDS in Brazil in 1991. Image: Getty.

"Whether [banning handshaking] is going too far or not is a question I would pose," she added.

Unless your employer says otherwise, Palmer states that "you’re probably safe" with a handshake, but that's where she draws the line.

"That's the most physical contact I would have with a fellow employee. Even if it's a sensitive situation, when someone is upset I would be very mindful of a hug or putting my hand on their hand," she warned.

Context is key. It may be more acceptable to pat someone on the back on a construction site than it is in an office, she explained.

Body language expert Dr Louise Mahler told 10 daily asking permission was key.

"Just like Jacinda Ardern did in her interview with Waleed Aly when she asked if a hug is okay. It's not hard to find out what is and isn't okay," she said.

A man gives his colleague a pat on the back at work. Image: Getty,

Palmer went on to say that all employers should review their policy for physical contact and make sure their staff are aware of it -- and adhere to it.

That applies even outside of the office, for example at a leaving drinks or Christmas party.

She recommends employers send out a memo reminding staff of their policies, advising them to "be sensible but don't cross the line."

According to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, examples of sexually harassing behaviour include unwelcome touching, unnecessary familiarity, and sexually explicit physical contact.

In 2018, the Australian Council of Trade Unions conducted an online survey of 7,500 people and found 61 percent of women and 35 percent of men said they had experienced sexual harassment at work.

The history of the handshake

Archaeological ruins and ancient texts show that handshaking -- also known as dexiosis -- was practised in ancient Greece as far back as the 5th century BC.

Although there are many conflicting theories about the origin of the handshake, the greeting is thought to have been a way of showing a stranger you had no weapons.

These days a firm, friendly handshake has long been recommended in the business world as a way to make a good first impression, and science has proven that strangers do form a better impression of those who proffer their hand in greeting.

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US President Donal Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12, 2018. Image: Getty Images.

Another study found that not only does the strength -- or weakness -- of a handshake convey subliminal social cues but the handshake itself also transmits chemical signals that allow us to "sniff each other out."

Along with greeting or parting, a handshake is a sign of good sportsmanship at the beginning or end of a match and can also indicate that two parties have come to an agreement.

10 daily reached out to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission but they were unable to comment.

Feature image: Getty.