1 in 10 retail workers have experienced 'inappropriate touching,' survey finds

Many workers believe their current employer does not care about protecting them from inappropriate behaviour. Photo: Blake Wisz/Unsplash

Just over one in 10 retail workers in the UK have been sexually assaulted in their current role, research shows.

In a poll of 1,000 retail staff by law firm Foot Anstey, 11% of both men and women said they have experienced "inappropriate touching of a sexual nature" at work.

Over a third (36%) of these workers believe their employer "could have done more" to prevent it happening.

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On top of this, nearly a third (31%) of men and a quarter (23%) of women have experienced physically aggressive or violent behaviour. Half (47%) said they have heard sexual, racist, homophobic, or other offensive language.

The overwhelming majority — 78% — of aggression this aggression comes from customers, workers said.

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But a quarter (24%) believe their current employer does not care about protecting them from inappropriate behaviour, with two in five (41%) of those who have filed a complaint at some point being unsatisfied with the outcome.

‘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 recalled, “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.”

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And one more said, "One particular colleague insists on touching people inappropriately. She is older and so everyone dismisses it as funny."

Several respondents described experiencing racist, sexual, and abusive language from both their colleagues and customers. Many reported bullying — particularly by managerial or senior staff.

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But for one in five (22%) there is no anonymous HR service at their work where they can raise concerns.

"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,” Patrick Howarth at Foot Anstey said.

"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."