Last reviewed 13 July 2020

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has set out the Government’s plan to address abuse and violence against shopworkers, but trade unions have criticised the plans for failing to go far enough and called for a new, specific law to protect shopworkers.

The Government’s plans are detailed in the Home Office’s response to an April 2019 call for evidence on the issue, and are aimed at improving support for victims and ensuring perpetrators face justice.

The plans include working with the National Retail Crime Steering Group (NRCSG) on a best practice guide to support staff in reporting such crimes, strengthening and making full use of existing laws, and improving data sharing between businesses and the police.

In addition, Kit Malthouse, the Crime and Policing Minister will write to PCCs and Chief Constables underscoring the importance of working closely with local businesses to tackle the issue and emphasising that the theft of goods valued up to £200 from a shop should be prosecuted as a criminal offence.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said, “As the daughter of shopkeepers, I know what a vital role they play within our communities and just how tirelessly they have worked during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I will not tolerate violence and abuse against any shopworker and it’s right that those who commit these crimes must be caught and punished.”

However, Paddy Lillis, General Secretary of the retail union Usdaw, said, “We are deeply disappointed that the Government and... the prime minister have not backed legislating for stiffer penalties for those who assault workers.

“They have failed to listen to the voices of shop workers and retailers, who had jointly called for a simple standalone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and most importantly criminals.”

The union leader added, “We are shocked that violence, threats and abuse have doubled during this national emergency… Our message is clear: abuse is not part of the job.”

Comment by Andrew Willis, Head of Legal at Croner

There is a statutory duty of care that employers have towards their staff that extends to protection in the workplace. However, it sometimes cannot be avoided when incidents of crime do occur in the workplace, especially towards shopworkers, so employers will find this announcement useful in dealing with the aftermath of violence against staff. If such measures aren’t taken where staff have been subjected to dangerous situations, though, employers could be faced with a number of tribunal claims, including constructive dismissal claims.