A toucher wants to know: How did simple, caring gestures get distorted into something that can get you fired?

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Q: I’m the type of person who likes to physically express my appreciation. If a co-worker helps me out or offers a compliment, I often say thanks by squeezing their hand or giving them a shoulder rub. Unfortunately, these friendly gestures of gratitude are now grounds for getting reprimanded by human resources.

When I met with our HR manager, she emphasized that despite my positive intentions, I should not be touching anyone at work. To me, this is like trying not to smile when you say hello. Because restraining my natural instincts is so difficult, I am constantly on guard around my colleagues.

I have considered finding another job, but I’m afraid this is just the world we now live in. To remain employed, I apparently have to be devoid of the most basic human emotions. How did simple, caring gestures get distorted into something that can get you fired?

A: Many people express positive feelings through touch, so your dismay at being chastised is understandable. However, you need to realize that there are just as many folks who do not like being touched by co-workers. To them, these physical overtures are an unwanted violation of their personal boundaries.

Because your no-touch colleagues may otherwise be quite friendly, you have no way of knowing who they are. If you continue to pat, squeeze or hug them, they will not be pleased. Therefore, if your goal is to show appreciation, a verbal expression of gratitude would be a much better idea.

As your HR manager undoubtedly explained, unwelcome touching can be considered sexual harassment. By advising you to break this hazardous habit, she is not only meeting the company’s legal obligations, but also trying to keep you out of trouble. So it’s time to muster up some willpower and keep your hands to yourself.

Fired over ethics issue

Q: I was recently fired because the requirements of my job conflicted with my personal ethics. Six months ago, a telemarketing company hired me as a contract employee. I was initially assigned to represent a reputable national firm and I was glad to make calls on their behalf.

As time went on, however, I was given clients who were much less trustworthy. My last assignment required me to lie about both the business I represented and the reason for the call. When I refused to participate in this deception and requested a different project, I was abruptly terminated. What can I do about this?

A: You are certainly to be commended for your unwillingness to mislead customers. If everyone shared your moral code, people would be much less wary of telemarketers.

Since I am not an attorney and know nothing about your contract, I can’t comment on the validity of your termination. But the sad reality is that contract employees are typically subject to quick and easy dismissal unless their employment terms specify otherwise.

On the positive side, however, you probably haven’t lost much by leaving this job. Any business based on falsehoods is not likely to be a desirable employer, so finding a more principled and rewarding workplace should not be a difficult task.

Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at yourofficecoach.com.