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Abuse of staff tops retailers’ employment concerns, according to research

Industry demands harsher punishments for offenders after research by law firm TLT highlights that abuse against shop workers is the biggest employment risk to have materialised as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

A survey of the UK’s top 100 retailers, carried out by law firm TLT, has found that a third (31%) of retailers have experienced abuse against shop workers.

TLT asked retailers about perceived risks versus those that have actually materialised. The study found that mental health issues is the fastest growing perceived risk, with abuse is second. It discovered that the highest levels of abuse equates to 70% in food & grocery, 32% in fashion & beauty, 29% in home and 19% in leisure & lifestyle.

Other employment risks – including mental health and wellbeing issues (13%), COVID-19 personal injury claims (6%), accident and injury (6%) and breach of health and safety regulations (2%) – have lower levels of reported cases, despite causing relatively high levels of concern.

Harsher punishments needed

The majority (69%) of retailers say harsher punishments are needed to help stem the rise of violence and intimidation against shop staff. The UK government rejected a new law that sought to achieve this in July 2020, while a similar bill is at Stage 2 in the Scottish Parliament.

Perran Jervis, Head of Retail and Consumer Goods at TLT, says: “Shop workers have been praised for their work on the front lines of the pandemic, but they have paid the price of being vulnerable to violence and abuse.

“This is affecting all retailers – not just one or two sectors – and our data shows that the industry as a whole feels very strongly that a firmer deterrent will be the most effective method to reduce incidents of violence and keep staff safe. In the absence of a new law, we can expect retailers to look at more creative ways to protect their staff, and for landlords, local authorities and police to work together to help solve the problem. It also needs the government to encourage retailers to engage with it on a way forward.

“Having the right support in place for all members of staff – including training and counselling – is vital for retailers to fulfil their duty of care towards their employees.”

The battle for talent

As the pandemic forces retailers to re-think their business and staffing requirements, one in five (19%) say they will need to make redundancies, rising to 26% in fashion.

Despite high profile stories about store closures, office roles are just as much at risk of redundancy as store roles. 29% of retailers say they are likely to need fewer shop staff, and 28% say the same in relation to head office and support centre staff. Only 7% anticipate needing fewer staff in warehousing and logistics, reflecting the continued increase in online and home delivery sales.

However, many retailers are embracing alternatives to redundancy and finding other ways to improve efficiency, manage costs and retain existing talent. The most common of these are holding back benefits, bonuses and incentives (41%), increasing efficiency via task automation (40%) and delaying wage increases (36%). Some retailers are also opting to change contractual hours (20%) or using more agency staff (12%).

More than a third (37%) of retailers say it’s getting harder to attract and retain talent, meaning retailers will face an increasingly tough battle for new recruits in the year ahead.

Esther Smith, Employment Partner at TLT, adds: “It is positive to see that retailers are finding other ways to balance their staffing needs other than redundancies. The data reflects how retailers are transforming their business for the post-pandemic environment and finding new ways to use their shops, staff and infrastructure.

“In many cases, it will make more sense for retailers to re-distribute or re-train staff to fulfil vacancies or new roles, especially if they are expecting an upturn in business after the pandemic. Not only is this more cost-effective, but existing employees will have built up a lot of knowledge and loyalty with the business and it demonstrates to future candidates that you invest in your employees. This will all support the employer’s brand in the job market.”

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