Young workers told us that the most common form of third-party harassment that they have experienced is verbal abuse. 85 per cent of young workers who have experienced third-party harassment have been subjected to verbal abuse, 47 per cent have been subjected to bullying, 40 per cent have been subjected to sexual assault and 26 per cent have been subjected to an incident of assault or physical violence.
We also asked young workers that had experienced harassment, abuse and/or violence from third-parties about their most recent experience of these behaviours. 62 per cent of the behaviours that young workers had experienced from a third-party was verbal abuse; 13 per cent was sexual harassment, 12 per cent was bullying and 5 per cent was an incident of assault or physical violence.
The most common form of harassment, abuse or violence that the survey respondents reported was verbal abuse (47 per cent), followed by sexual harassment (32 per cent) and name calling/swearing (19 per cent). Over 10 per cent reported physical attacks, and around 5 per cent reported third-parties demanding their personal details. Respondents also reported experiencing racist, homophobic and transphobic discrimination, as well as harassment and abuse due to a disability.
[I am] called slow, incompetent, stupid because I cannot do things as quickly as others due to [my] disability, and also [the] restrictions from systems and processes.
There were several examples where third-parties exploited the power dynamic in a customer / worker relationship, using perceived characteristics of the young worker to belittle, undermine and abuse them to get their way.
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.
Harassment and abuse can also take place online. Teachers who responded to the survey highlighted parents who would harass them via email during holidays and over the weekends. There were examples of retail workers who were harassed by customers on social media and outside of their working hours.
[Customers] being verbally abusive and saying how a woman can't do the job as well as a man. I have also been harassed on social media by customers who have gained access to my full name.
Sexual harassment is a common theme in the survey responses. Nearly one third (32 per cent) of survey responses reported sexual harassment. The harassment ranged from groping young workers’ bodies, attempting to kiss them and other inappropriate touching, to making sexual gestures or innuendo, commenting on their body, making indecent remarks and sexually propositioning them, to following them around a shop or repeatedly calling them at work. This is not an exhaustive list of behaviours that were reported.
Most of these incidents, while in a public place, took place when the young worker and a customer were often away from other colleagues or senior staff members, for example, on the shop floor, on checkout tills or over the phone.
One time I really remember is when I was serving an older gentleman who was buying underwear, he said he would love to see me in them.
Many of the young workers who reported sexual harassment listed incidents from several different third-parties as part of the same job, whereas some talked about repeat offenders that were not dealt with.
An elderly male photographed me as I was working, which involves me bending over at times. A man wolf whistled at me and told me he loved to see a woman on her knees as I was stocking a bottom shelf. An elderly man kept complimenting my body, such as telling me to look into his eyes [so he could] admire my eye colour.
Some incidences were witnessed by other colleagues or the employer. However, this did not necessarily mean that the sexual harassment was dealt with by the employer.
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.
Stalking by a third-party was reported by several respondents. Stalking is a criminal offence in England, Wales and Scotland. One respondent reported that she contacted the police after her employer’s failure to try to prevent the stalking. One respondent told us about a perpetrator repeatedly taking photos of their colleague. Another disclosed being harassed and stalked by a customer who sent letters to her workplace. Stalking was just one of many incidences of sexual harassment and threats of violence made against her at work.
“Customer groped me. Customers on multiple occasions made suggestive innuendo about my body. Customer threatened to attack me. Customer stalked me for over a year, sending letters and harassing me at work.”
Customer services assistant, retail, aged 26 – 30
Some incidences involved the perpetrator approaching the young worker whilst undertaking their job, for example, where the young worker is unable to leave the workplace or the area which they have been instructed to work in.
“A male customer would visit [the shop] around 4 times a day and would harass me and other young girls. He would walk around the store until he spotted me... If I was with another customer, he would walk around my location until they left when he would then approach [me]. At first it was general chit chat, but then as I began feeling like he was stalking me around the shop his actions would become worse.”
Customer assistant, retail, aged 18 - 21
This incident was reported to the employer by the young worker and her colleagues on multiple occasions over the course of a year. Action was taken by the employer following the customer groping and attempting to kiss members of staff. The employer spoke to the customer about his behaviour, but he still frequents the shop.
One of the strongest and most shocking themes across both the polling and the survey was the frequency of third-party harassment for young workers. According to the polling, for every type of third-party harassment, abuse or violence that young workers experienced, at least half have been subjected to the behaviour three or more times. 70 per cent of those who experienced verbal abuse from third-parties were subjected to it three or more times; this figure is 63 per cent for bullying and 57 per cent for sexual harassment respectively. Even 50 per cent of young workers who experienced physical assault or violence from a third-party were subjected to it three or more times.
We also asked young workers about how recently they’d experienced harassment, abuse or violence from a third-party. Nearly two thirds (64 per cent) who had experienced verbal abuse from a third-party had experienced it within the last 12 months. This figure is 36 per cent for those who experienced bullying. 46 per cent of those who experienced sexual harassment from a third-party, and 47 per cent of those who experienced physical assault or violence, did so within the last 12 months.
“Not a day goes by when I’m not called names by old men, usually 'baby' or 'pretty' etc, little do they know I am underage, and it is extremely uncomfortable.”
On-call customer service assistant, financial intermediation, aged 16 – 17
The survey respondents told us about the constant, very often daily, occurrences of harassment, from both “one-off” customers as well as “repeat offenders”. Over half of respondents to the survey reported that they had experienced harassment, abuse or violence from a third party two or more times (52 per cent), with 30 per cent telling us they had experienced it more than three times. One in six told us the harassment, abuse or violence is still ongoing.
“[I am] constantly being sworn at by customers for no reason, also being called racial slurs…. I’ve witnessed people being hit.”
Customer sales assistant, retail, aged 18 – 21
Of the young people who have experienced harassment, abuse or violence at some point at work, nearly two in five told us the perpetrators had been a third-party. Of these respondents, over half (54 per cent) had most recently experienced one or more of these behaviours from a customer. This figure is nearly one quarter (23 per cent) for a member of the public which the young worker interacts with as part of their job.
“I’ve been told by customers that my voice sounds sexy and they would love to see me in person […] I have also been in situations where the customer was shouting at me and calling me abusive names and swearing at me.”
Customer advisor, banking, aged 18 – 21
Over 87 per cent of survey respondents reported that the perpetrator of harassment, abuse or violence was a customer. This is expected given that almost 80 per cent of survey respondents work in the retail sector. Other perpetrators were contractors, clients, business contacts, pupils and the parents of pupils.
“[I receive] repeated humiliating comments related to gender from contractors, use of offensive language related to gender by consultants.”
Building surveyor, construction, aged 31 - 35
All workers whose job requires interaction with the public or third-parties are by default at a higher risk of experiencing harassment, abuse or violence from third-parties. Some of the survey respondents reported certain factors about their job that can further heighten the risk of harassment, abuse or violence from a third-party.
While not many of the young workers who responded to the survey can be categorised as a lone worker, several respondents reported incidents that occurred when they were working on their own, either temporarily or for an extended period.
“I have been spat at, shouted at and pushed by customers on different occasions while lone working. This has happened several times over the last year.”
Store manager, retail, aged 22 – 25
Third-parties who had consumed alcohol were a particular risk to young workers – five per cent of survey respondents reported it as a contributing factor to the harassment, abuse or violence they experienced. Several young workers reported that the abuse was triggered by refusing the sale of alcohol due to a customer’s inebriation.
“[I] refused to serve 3 men due to the fact one of them was obviously drunk. They were extremely hostile and abusive, they cornered me and verbally abused me and were very threatening about physical violence and shoplifting if I didn’t serve them.”
Cashier, retail, aged 22 - 25
The risk of harassment, abuse or violence was further exacerbated for young workers who worked over the weekend or late at night.
“Drunk late-night weekend passengers that end up fighting both with each other and staff who try to diffuse situations. I’ve had homophobic abuse launched at me, for doing the most basic of tasks such as collecting revenue or asking someone to stand back behind the yellow line.”
Train driver, transport, aged 26 – 30
 This is based on a sample of 261 people aged 18-34, who are in work and have experienced bullying, sexual harassment, verbal abuse and/or physical assault or violence from a third-party.
 Remaining responses included “none of these”, “can’t recall” or “prefer not to say”.
 Incidences of third-party harassment can contain a combination of behaviours, for e.g. both verbal abuse and sexual harassment. For this purpose, we have counted the incidences by the number of different types of harassment, rather than per incident.
 Responses to the free-text box question “Please tell us about your experience of third-party harassment at work”.
 The total number of respondents to the polling aged 18-34 was 1411. 47 per cent have experienced some form of bullying, sexual harassment, verbal abuse and/or physical assault or violence at work, or a combination of these.
 The HSE defines lone workers as “those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision.”
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