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61% of shop workers subjected to offensive behaviour, study finds

Shopworkers have reported a rise in cases of verbal, physical or sexual harassment in the workplace sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the majority believed the lifting of many restrictions on 19 July had exacerbated, not diminished, the level of harassment

Some 61% of shop workers have experienced some form of offensive behaviour while working for their current employer, for whom the impact manifested as stress (45%), anxiety (43%) and a loss of self-esteem (19%), according to a recent survey of 1048 shopworkers by Foot Anstey.

Foot Anstey said half of respondents (50%) noted a rise in harassment during the Covid-19 pandemic (versus 42% who did not), and of that group 95% had seen a rise in verbal harassment, one in five (20%) physical harassment, and 5% sexual harassment within their working environment.

These results come after an open letter in July calling for greater legal protection for retail workers, which was signed by the leaders of 100 retailers, including Ikea, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, and organised by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Shopworkers identified masks (57%), social distancing (45%), limits on customer numbers in store (38%) and stock shortages (36%) as the main causes of confrontation. 

Additionally, the majority believed enforcing their retailer’s COVID safety measures after ‘Freedom Day’ resulted in a rise of aggressive behaviour; 52% agreed, versus 21% who did not.

However, nearly three-quarters of shopworkers (72%) agreed having COVID safety measures in stores made them feel safer, versus just 10% who did not. 

Almost two-thirds of shopworkers wanted to see masks (65%), protective screens (65%) and social distancing (64%) remain in place for the foreseeable future, and 37% wanted a continued limit on numbers in-store, highlighting retail workers’ unease at going back to pre-pandemic working environments and the need to strengthen protection for retail workers.

Nathan Peacey, partner and head of retail and consumer at Foot Anstey, said: “Creating safe places to work and shop is a key theme for retailers, and we have seen them increase the pressure on the government to take effective steps, whilst doubling down on their own efforts to look after their people. 

“Retail workers told us they felt there were not enough laws in place to protect them. It is essential that existing laws are enforced, or new ones brought in, to support retailers’ own protocols, guidance and response measures and support those on the retail frontline feel safer and supported.”

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