By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
I am writing to break the news to many of you:  No, it is not appropriate to touch any of your co-workers in the workplace, nor to hug them, nor to give them back-rubs or massages, nor to pat them on the butt!  I know, breaking news, huh?
The reason that I am writing this blog is that most recently, and I am speaking about within the last two months here in September 2023, we have had calls from three different resident physicians and fellows, getting booted out of their graduate medical education (GME) programs for the unwanted touching of other residents or fellows or hospital employees.  And they were not all males.

Nothing Learned from the #MeToo Movement?

Despite all the publicity given to the #MeToo Movement, and with the television and social media full of individuals being prosecuted criminally and sued civilly, there still seem to be a large number of residents and fellows who do not understand.  No touching means no touching.  Weren’t you taught that in elementary school, I mean kindergarten, I mean pre-school, like I was?
Just because someone does not immediately jump up and slap you or punch you when you come up behind him and start giving him a “shoulder rub” or “neck massage” does not mean he has consented to it, wants it or is okay with it.  Keep your hands to yourself.

Add to the Things You Learned in Grade School That Are Still Rules to Live by.

Everyone learned many, many rules in grade school that are life’s lessons that should be remembered and observed no matter where you are, when you are or how old you are.  These include lessons such as: “Don’t lie” (granted, many politicians seem to have forgotten this lesson, but maybe prison will help them remember); and “If you take something out, put it back where you got it.”
These rules are the ones I am writing about here. Common sense?  Apparently not for all!  These apply regardless of the sex of the parties.
1.It is not okay to give someone a neck or shoulder massage because they “look tense.”
2.It is not okay to give someone a hug because they look sad or “look like they need a hug.”
3.It is not okay to touch someone’s hips or back to show them you want them to move out of your way or just because you are near them.
4.It is not okay to give someone a welcome kiss because you are glad to see them (after all, we are not living in France).
5.It is not okay to slap someone on the butt, despite how big of a jock he is (I would probably grant an exception if this occurs on the football field or rugby pitch while everyone is in uniform, while the game is still in progress, but no place else;  and definitely a kiss would be inappropriate!).
6.It is not okay to take the other person’s hand, rub the other person’s back, lay your hand on the other person’s thigh, or rub the other person’s ______ (fill in the blank, anything can go here).
A Battery is a Battery!
Any unwanted touching of any kind is considered a battery.  You can be sued for it. You can be prosecuted criminally for it. You can be fired for it. So don’t be surprised when that happens.

How You Can Tell the Other Person Wants the Touching?

How do you know whether the other person wants the touching?  That’s easy.  They will tell you in no uncertain terms, using very specific language:  “I want you to massage my neck” or “I want you to slap my butt” or “I want you to give me a hug.”  For example, if you will recall the totally fictional character Hotlips O’Houlihan in the film “Mash,” who stated: “Oh, Frank, my lips are hot!  Kiss my hot lips!”  But remember, that scene did not take place in the workplace.
Also, this won’t be a request which the other person makes nonverbally or by “a look” or by an indirect comment or insinuation or by “flirting.”  Just because you believe you are God’s gift to the other sex or other person does not mean you really are.  Just because you believe that you can tell when the other person really wants to have some romance with you without them even having to say it, does not mean that you are correct.  “No” means “no,” especially when it is not a specific “Yes.”
Direct and specific.  Otherwise, JUST ASSUME THAT THEY DO NOT WANT IT and you will be okay.  Also, just because that might happen one time (miracles being miracles) does not grant you an unlimited license to hug, kiss, rub or slap a butt all the time, anytime, anywhere, and especially not at work.
You won’t get sued because you failed to give someone a hug that needed it (Heimlich maneuvers excepted).  You won’t get prosecuted criminally because you failed to give someone a hug who needed it. You won’t have a Title IX complaint or sexual harassment complaint filed against you because you failed to give someone a hug who needed it.  You won’t get fired because you failed to give someone a hug who needed it.
Especially Keep Up Boundaries with Subordinates.
If the other person is a subordinate, then you must still make sure you create, maintain and keep your professional boundaries.  Just because your junior resident says he needs you to kiss his lips, does not mean you should do this;  in fact, you shouldn’t.  Just because your ultrasound technician tells you she needs you to give her a hug, does not mean you should do this;  in fact, you shouldn’t.  Just because your favorite nurse tells you that he is your favorite nurse and to “kiss me you fool,” does not mean you should do this;  in fact, you should not.  And again, the foregoing goes triple in the workplace.

So, Just Keep Your Hands to Yourself!

So, just keep your hands (as well as other body parts for you pervs out there who may interpret this warning too literally) to yourself, especially in the workplace!
If you are unable to keep your hands to yourself, then you have some serious impulse control issues and you need some heavy duty psychiatric or psychological treatment to cure this.
If you are unable to distinguish the boundaries between workplace and social settings, then you have some serious professional boundary issues, and you need some deep education, counseling and behavior modification therapy.
If you believe you can read the other person’s mind and can receive those secret brain signals that tell you that he or she really, really wants you badly, man (or woman) you need some help.
If you are unable to control yourself to the extent that you violate the warnings I am providing in this article (though they be written with a certain degree of humor and sarcasm), then you are in for a very rude awakening.  It is just a matter of time.
Don’t allow your professional career to be ruined by a lack of self-control.  Control yourself.  No one else can.

We are here if you need us.

However, if you get into trouble with your graduate medical education program, medical school, hospital or employer because of being a little too “handsy” or because of unprofessional conduct or boundary issues, contact us right away.  We are familiar with such problems and may be able to help, if it’s not already too late.
To read one of my prior blogs, including 16 helpful tips to avoid sexual harassment complaints and allegations, click here.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys Representing Medical Students, Residents, and Fellows.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents students, including medical students, dental students, nursing students, pharmacy students, resident physicians, and fellows, who have legal problems with their schools or programs. We also represent students, residents, and fellows in investigations, academic probation and suspensions, disciplinary hearings, clinical competence committee (CCC) hearings, and appeals of adverse actions taken against them. The Health Law Firm’s attorneys include those who are board-certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.
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About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

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