Pandemic gives rise to abuse of retail workers

Retail workers have experienced a rise in violence and abuse aimed at them since the Covid-19 pandemic, according to latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Figures from its latest Crime Survey reveal incidents of racial and sexual abuse, as well as violence, threats and even assault, have risen from 450 cases per day prior to the pandemic, to 850 per day.

Half (52%) of surveyed retailers said violence against their staff was their biggest fear while 96% named it as one of their top three fears.

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According to BRC CEO, Helen Dickinson, it is not just incidents themselves that are the problem, but their aftermath too. In a statement she said: “A confrontation may be over in minutes, but for many victims, their families and colleagues, the physical and emotional impact can last a lifetime.”

There were more than 316,000 incidents of violence and abuse aimed at staff during 2021-22, while there were 29 daily occurrences of violence that ended up in injury.

It also found more than 10% of workers suffered from some form of harassment.

Despite the rise in incidents, the number of reports made to the police actually fell during the same period.

The BRC has called for police and crime commissioners to elevate the importance of retail crime, and for improved sentencing. It also wants a simpler reporting tool to be made available to retailers to more easily report abuse.

Dickinson said: “The BRC strongly believes that retail crime needs to be clearly recognised and addressed as a category in itself in strategic plans and in the statistics if the police response is to improve.”

Separate research by Retail Trust, has found 90% of staff say they have been abused at work, with a third saying it happens on a weekly basis.

One employee it spoke to, 'Jane, a supermarket checkout supervisor, revealed how abuse was now “part of my job".

Last November Retail Trust launched its Let’s Respect Retail initiative, to raise awareness of the abuse of retail staff.

Speaking to HR magazine, Chris Brook-Carter, CEO of the Retail Trust, said: “People told us that they would feel safer if their employers adopted a publicly visible zero-tolerance policy against customer abuse, adopted better security or provided formal training on how to deal with confrontation in the workplace.

“But importantly, a quarter of retail workers admitted to not telling their employer or manager about difficult incidents, fearing they might not receive any help or get into trouble, whilst many just weren’t sure who to turn to.”

Figures from the recent Association of Convenience Stores 2022 Crime Report revealed that 89% of staff working in convenience stores face abuse, with retailer The Co-Op revealing it has had staff that have been threatened with axes, and physically punched. One was hospitalised with a punctured lung and broken ribs after being attacked by three shoplifters over a £10 bottle of spirits.

Abuse and violence against retail workers became an aggravated offence last year with the maximum penalty doubled from 12 months to two years under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.