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15 August 2019

Law firm flags retail sector employment "suspicions"

Findings, including 1 in 10 retail workers experiencing "inappropriate sexual touching" in current job, “confirm the suspicions of anyone working in employment law.”

By Dr David Cowan


Just over 1 in 10 (11 percent) the UK's retail workers have experienced “inappropriate touching of a sexual nature” in their current role, according to a new survey by law firm Foot Anstey. A figure of 11 per cent represents 319,000 workers in the UK's retail sector.

Employment tribunals

The UK law firm 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. The survey finds that over a third (36 percent) of those workers believe their employer “could have done more” to prevent it happening. Almost half (47 percent) have heard sexual, racist, homophobic or other very offensive language. There is a limited gender divide, with the 11 per cent figure being the same for men and women. Amongst men, 31 per cent in the retail sector have experienced physically aggressive or violent behaviour while the figure for women is 23 per cent. The great majority (78 per cent) of aggression is from customers.

Suspicions confirmed

Around a quarter (24 percent) believe their current employer does not care about protecting them from inappropriate behaviour, and 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,” adding “I hope they bring to life that quality training for managers in reputation-damaging issues is more important than ever.” Mr Howarth explained, “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.” He concluded, “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.”

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