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Harassment and abuse by a member of the public

Everyone has the right to feel safe and respected at work, but this is not always the case.

Thousands of people are abused, harassed and bullied by customers, clients, patients and members of the public – especially workers in retail, hospitality and care.

What is a third-party?

A “third-party” is someone you interact with as part of your job who does not have the same employer as you. This could be:

  • Customer – such as in a shop, a restaurant, a train passenger or a hotel guest
  • Client – such as in a meeting, or when visiting someone’s home to care for them
  • Patient – such as in a hospital
  • Business contact – such as in a meeting or at a conference
  • Any non-directly employed staff, such as contractors or agency workers

After asking for ID, the customer became very aggressive and verbally abusive. They picked on my height, weight, appearance and intelligence. They also assumed my age to be younger than them and talked down to me like a small child.

Sales assistant, retail, aged 22 – 25

What do we mean by bullying, harassment and abuse?

Abuse, harassment and bullying have slightly different definitions under the law. However, the important thing is the negative impact these behaviours have on workers.

The behaviour can be verbal or physical, can happen in person, online or over the phone, and it can happen on your way to and from work.

Whether verbal abuse, sexual harassment or being undermined at work, it’s not OK, and it is not part of the job.

Customers sexually harassing staff members and myself whilst drunk. It also occurs when they are sober. It happens every time I work. My managers think it’s funny.

Customer service assistant, retail, aged 18 – 21

It’s happening to me

Employers should ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of all employees - but not enough do.

If you are experiencing abuse, harassment and bullying, you should tell someone you trust.

If you feel you can, report it to your employer. They should believe you, take it seriously, and take steps to protect you and your colleagues from the abuse, harassment or bullying.

Employers should not treat you differently or less favourably because you have reported bullying, harassment or abuse. Unfortunately, not all employers stick to this.

And our current laws don’t help workers – the government should strengthen them to protect workers .

What needs to change?

We need a new law to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace before it happens. We're demanding a new, easily enforceable legal duty. It would require employers to take all reasonable steps to protect workers from sexual harassment and victimisation.

Add your name to the petition and demand the government to take immediate action to bring a new law to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

It’s a simple step that could stop harassment in many cases before it starts.

Trade unions – your friend at work

Join a union

Report any abuse, harassment or bullying to your union rep at work. They can help you, whether a customer is abusing you, a passenger has harassed you or a manager is bullying you.

Hundreds of workers told us that abuse, harassment and bullying is just a normal part of their job and their employer won’t help them. Employers can ignore one voice, but not many voices. Joining a union means coming together to make your voice heard.

As well as helping you with your situation, unions can negotiate better policies with employers that protect all the workers from abuse, harassment and bullying.

Get help today – find a union for you

More information

Resources for trade unions

  • Report - Not part of the job
    Young workers’ experiences of third-party harassment: polling and survey finding

  • Guidance for reps - Tackling third-party abuse and harassment
    This guide looks at this issue of third-party abuse and harassment and explains, what it is, how it manifests and its impacts, and what unions and employers should do to prevent it

  • Webinar - Third party harassment
    Kathryn Mackridge, TUC Policy Officer hosted a live webinar on young workers' experiences of harassment from members of the public and customers at work. She outlines what the government, unions, employers and reps can do to tackle this issue and took questions on how we can encourage young workers to report incidences.

We need a new law to prevent sexual harassment at work The government needs to take immediate action
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