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Legal changes

New Legislation to be introduced in Scotland aimed at protecting retail workers from abuse

The act aims to provide better protection in law to workers in shops, bars and restaurants across Scotland.

Last month was a bittersweet day for retail workers as new legislation came into force in Scotland aimed at protecting them from abuse whilst doing their jobs. Whilst it can be viewed as a positive step against violence it is perhaps sad that these measures have been viewed as necessary.

Protection of Workers (Retail and Age Restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act

The Act was introduced on the 24 August 2021 and is intended to be a powerful deterrent to those who abuse or threaten workers. Such action will no longer be tolerated and there are now consequences. The Act aims to provide better protection in law to retail workers including when they are providing a service which is age-restricted (i.e., trying to enforce a statutory age restriction).  Workers are now urged to report any incidents of abuse and the Act will cover those who are abused whilst doing their job, in shops, bars and restaurants across Scotland.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) have welcomed the introduction of the Act. Usdaw had released alarming statistics from their latest annual survey that showed that 92.2% of workers were verbally abused, 70.1% were threatened and 14% had been assaulted. Disappointingly, the abuse increased during the Covid-19 pandemic with the pandemic exacerbating an already stressful situation. Despite being recognised as essential key workers and the ‘hidden heroes’ during the pandemic, a rise in the level of abuse directed at members was reported. This could be attributed to the increasing level of frustration faced by customers when shopping caused by such things as mask wearing, one-way systems, queuing to enter shops and limits on stock, with frontline staff bearing the brunt of this frustration. Disturbingly, Usdaw reported that in a survey workers reported having been spat at, coughed at and sneezed at when asking customers to observe social distancing in shops.  

It is unclear whether the pandemic intensified the need for this legislation but undoubtedly the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have disrupted the lives of everyone and exposed vulnerabilities in many. Nevertheless, the legislation is welcomed and creates a new statutory offence for anyone who assaults, threatens or abuses a retail worker whilst they are working. Such incidents should be reported to the police and could result in a fine or escalate to a prison sentence in certain cases. Usdaw are urging members to report all incidents as a previous survey found that only a fifth of workers report such abuse.

Next steps

It is clear that steps needed to be taken to provide support and protection for our workers. Retail workers do a tremendous job serving local communities and many of these workers, such as supermarket workers, were public facing throughout the entire Covid-19 pandemic. They deserve respect and freedom from abuse in the workplace and Scotland is seen as paving the way for this with this legislation. Whether the Act will deter future crime remains to be seen but it is hoped that its implementation will see a reduction in the number of incidents. However, for this to happen, it is imperative that all acts of abuse are reported.

The legislation will undoubtedly send a message to offenders that their behaviour will not be tolerated and that there are now consequences for their actions. It will be interesting to see how the police and courts apply the legislation going forward and whether Westminster follows suit.

For further information about this legislation, or guidance on what it means for you, contact our employment law solicitors.