Friday, August 12, 2011

Its Not What You Come to Work For!

A German group has called for kissing to be banned in the workplace.

The Knigge Society (whose name comes from a German word for good manners) campaigns on matters of etiquette. They have in the past expressed opinions on topics such as how to end a relationship by text message (is that ever acceptable?)

They say they have received emails from workers concerned about the practice of greeting colleagues and business contacts with a kiss on the cheek. The suggestion is that this is un-German behaviour and that it would be safest to limit onesself to a handshake.

This could have some interesting consequences if a similar thing happened in the UK.

Under UK law, unwanted conduct related to sex which has the effect of violating a person's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading humiliating or offensive environment for them amounts to unlawful sex discrimination by way of harassment.

Whilst recent case law stresses that this means serious things rather than petty slights, and a one-off unwanted peck on the cheek would be unlikely to lead to any consequences, someone who persisted in greeting a colleague in this manner when it had been made clear by the recipient that they did not like it could find themselves in trouble (and by extension their employer in trouble unless the latter had taken all reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination.)

And what about someone from a Mediterranean country who complains that being banned from greeting someone in this way is discriminating against them? If this is how someone from that culture is used to greeting people then a ban could (possibly) be argued to put them at a disadvantage compared to people from a North European/Anglo-Saxon background where a handshake is the order of the day. If so then it would come down to whether a ban on the practice was a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim (presumably the legitimate aim of avoiding giving offence to customers and colleagues.)
The BBC report is here.