1 in 10 (11%) retail workers have experienced “inappropriate sexual touching” in their current job

A figure of 11 per cent represents 319,000 workers in the UK's retail sector

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. 

And over a third (36%) of those workers believe their employer “could have done more” to prevent it happening, a poll of over 1,000 retail staff for law firm Foot Anstey shows. A figure of 11 per cent represents 319,000 workers in the UK’s retail sector.

UK law firm Foot Anstey commissioned Survation to understand what lessons there still are for retail leaders at a time when Employment Tribunal claim numbers are seeing a sharp rise.

Other findings:

  • Almost half (47%) have heard sexual, racist, homophobic or other very offensive language
  • Limited gender divide – the 11 per cent figure is the same for men and women
  • 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
  • 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

Foot Anstey head of Retail and Consumer Patrick Howarth said: “Eye-catching as these figures are, I think I need to be honest and say they confirm the suspicions of anyone working in employment law.

“I hope they bring to life that quality training for managers in reputation-damaging issues is more important than ever. Business leaders want to see an end to the kind of behaviour this study reveals.

“Our survey shows the majority of sexual harassment comes from within the business. In Employment Tribunals the instigator is overwhelmingly more senior than the person making the complaint.” 

Howarth added: “Many managers are promoted on the basis of technical abilities and are not equipped with the leadership skills to deal with harassment – or even recognise it when they see it. That’s no one’s fault. The important thing is to change it.”

“Insists on touching”

Anonymous survey respondents were given space to share what they had experienced. Replies included: “One colleague made me sit on his lap once. And he was really close behind me. I could feel his warmth.”

Another recalls: “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.”

And one more 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. But for 22 per cent there is no anonymous HR service at their work where they can raise concerns.

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