An authoritative new survey of the UK’s retail workers has revealed just over 1 in 10 (11%) have experienced “inappropriate touching of a sexual nature” in their current role.
The survey conducted by UK law firm Foot Anstey found that of the 1000 retail questioned over a third (36%) said they believe their employer “could have done more” to prevent it happening. The figure 11 percent represents 319,000 workers in the UK’s retail sector, which is a significant amount of the UK workforce experiencing sexual harassment.
The survey also found that almost half of employees (47%) have heard sexual, racist, homophobic or other very offensive language. 31 per cent of men in the retail sector have experienced physically aggressive or violent behaviour. With women it’s 23 per cent. The great majority – 78 per cent – of aggression is from customers.
Rude customers are inevitable for businesses, especially in businesses such as retail and hospitality where many may be drinking, and procedures should be in place to ensure customers are dealt with and excused from premises. However, in many situations it is other colleagues that are causing the distress and there should be strong practices in place to ensure employees are comfortable and taken seriously when they complain.
Around a quarter (24%) believe their current employer does not care about protecting them from inappropriate behaviour. 41 per cent of employees who raised a complaint said they were dissatisfied with the outcome. 22 per cent there is no anonymous HR service at their work where they can raise concerns confidently and confidentially.
It is critical that staff feel safe in work and should they be exposed to sexual harassment, aggression or discrimination of any sort, there are proceedings to deal with these.
One anonymous respondent said: “I used to work in an establishment with two male colleagues who would be both verbally and physically sexually inappropriate. Unfortunately, due to their relationship with the senior staff, they both got away with it.”
Another said: “One particular colleague insists on touching people inappropriately. She is older and so everyone dismisses it as funny.” Several respondents describe experiencing racist, sexual and abusive language from both their colleagues and customers. Many reported bullying – particularly by managerial or senior staff.